Appreciating scripture’s perennial relevance
Talk to students at Bhaktivedanta Academy, Alachua
Appreciating scriptures perennial relevance
Hare Krishna! We live in the modern world and sometimes people may ask why you’re reading these old books; Mahabharata, Ramayana, the Bhagavad-Gita. We have cell phones and telecommunication and Internet. Why do we need such old things now?
So just like the sun in the sky we need the sun whether we are in the ancient times or the modern times. We may have artificial light but this artificial light also comes from the sun ultimately. If there were no sun there would not be any hydroelectric power or thermal power. So whatever be the time the sun is always needed.
Like that the spiritual knowledge that is given in the Scriptures is like the sun. It shows the way at all times; past, present, future. So we may have knowledge; say we may learn science and science tells us how to do things, how we can fly in the sky, how we can explore space, how we can explore underwater, how is all very good and that knowledge is valuable but all along with that we need the knowledge of why? why am I living? what am I supposed to do?
So material knowledge scientific knowledge can provide us speed, it it can go first but it is spiritual knowledge that provides us direction. Where should I go?
In fact two of the most prominent scientists of the last century Einstein and Eisenberg. They were discussing once and Eisenberg said to Einstein that we (he refers to Western civilization) have built a huge ship. It has all the comforts and facilities in it. But it has no compass and we don’t know where we are going.
So we need spiritual knowledge which is given in Scripture is primarily for direction, direction means where should we be going? What should we be doing? Otherwise, with more and more material knowledge we can go more and more faster but where are we going we may not know. Just like you may have heard about this air flight announcement. The captain announces I have good news and the bad news; the good news is that our plane is going very fast and the bad news is our navigation system has broken down and we don’t know where are we going. So if it happens like that we may go very fast but we will not get anywhere, certainly not where we want to go. So the spiritual knowledge provides us knowledge of where we should be going in life.
So the Mahabharata is like a compass, the compass shows us the way, the Scriptures in general. So from the Mahabharata I will take one particular story or one particular character and talk about him. How many of you know about Arjuna and Karna? Okay! how many of you know about Arjuna? Okay! everyone knows. Everyone knows Karna also. So what do you think about Karna? Was he a good person or a bad person? **inaudible**You have given a safe answer to a controversial question. So he was a controversial person, right. If we look at his life there are two aspects we will look at and when we say it controversial what does it mean? Something which is right, something which is wrong. So some things happened to him some things that he did. So can anyone say what was good about him?
There were five Pandavas you know in the Mahabharata. So Arjuna is one of them and before their birth Kunti had another son who was Karna and he did not live with his brothers. He was born and brought up by another person who was a charioteer. And nobody knew that he was a warrior but still he learned archery he became a warrior. But because he was not born in a warrior family; often people treated him like charioteer not like a warrior. He did not get the honor. And at one time when Arjuna had completed his education, and all the students were exhibiting their skills how they had learned. So that time Karna get crashed over there and he said I will exhibit everything better than what Partha has done. Who is Partha? Partha is another name for Arjuna. So then Karna exhibited all the skills; equal to Arjuna. He did not exceed although he has said that I will exceed did not exceed but after he said, ‘I would like to have a dual with him, one-to-one fight’.
Sometimes people show boxing moves. How you can fight. But he says, ‘now I don’t want to show moves, I want to have a real fight’. He said, ‘let’s fight’. So at that time they asked, ‘who are you?’ and if there is say Wimbledon championship is there and final is going on and some unknown player comes over there and he says, ‘I want to challenge defending champion’. No what is your ranking? What is your background? You need to know that. How can you otherwise challenge? So they asked him, ‘what is your background?’ So at that time he hung his head because he was not a warrior. So Duryodhana, he was more or less a villain in the Mahabharata. So he saw this opportunity. He always wanted to defeat the Pandavas and Duryodhana was thinking I will get the better of Bhima but who will get the better of Partha? When he saw Karna he thought this is my opportunity and immediately he went there and he said, ‘oh you think that he is not a warrior? I will make him a warrior; I will give him a kingdom right now’ and that time Karna felt very indebted to Duryodhana. ‘Oh you helped me! When I was a being dishonored; you honored me. I will give up my life for you. Whatever you tell I will do for you’. So Duryodhana said, ‘Karna I don’t want anything. I want only your friendship’. So they embraced each other and Karna was made into a king. And they were about to fight but at that time the sun set, the time got over. So there was no fight at that time.
So now later on, this was the time when Duryodhana and Karna became friends. Afterwards on many occasions the Kauravas tried to unfairly attack and even kill the Pandavas. Anyone knows any of the incidents? The fire. They had asked them to go to a distant place called Varnavart and where they had a house made of lack. They tried to burn them.
So initially Karna was a good guy and he said why do you do all these schemes? Said, ‘if you want to defeat the Pandavas, let’s challenge them to a fight, we will defeat them, we will kill them and will take their kingdom’. But Duryodhana had another assistant his name was Shakuni. He was an evil guy, wicked guy, cunning person. So what he did the Shakuni? He told, ‘No no, you should not fight with the Pandavas. Let’s do like this’. So now Karna agreed. So like that one after another Duryodhana did many schemes and Karna went on with them. Initially he used to oppose but afterwards just went along. And finally the Pandavas were invited to a gambling match.
How many of you know tennis? Okay many of you know tennis. So which are two good countries in tennis? **inaudible**what I am giving the example is per se, normally tennis is an individual sport. But suppose it’s a team sport. Davis cup is a team event. So say Brazil is playing against Sweden. Sweden is considered to be very good country. And then Brazil says, ‘okay come for a match to us and when they are about to play a match Brazil instead of putting their players they put the players of some other country; say America. Suppose America has very good players. Now can you do like that? That’s unfair. Isn’t it?
So the Pandavas were invited for gambling match and when they were invited for the gambling match at that time Yudhishthira came, he did not want to gamble. He said, ‘what do you want to gamble? And waste money like this. But He said, ‘no it’s like a challenge. Then you accept it or you accept that you are coward’. So Yudhishthira came and when he came Duryodhana should have played with them but Duryodhana said, ‘On my behalf Shakuni will play’. So he said, ‘how can you do that? if you’re playing you should be playing. Not that somebody else plays on your behalf’. So again they said, ‘if you’re afraid then no need to play’. So now Yudhishthira because all family elders were there Dhritarashtra was there, so he did not object, so he played along and he lost everything over there. Lost his kingdom, lost his weapons, lost his wealth, he gambled himself and he lost himself also. And then he gambled Draupadi and he lost Draupadi also. Although Karna had initially been quite virtuous by this time Karna became spoiled. He became spoiled and what this spoiled means? That because he was living with Duryodhana; see when we live with some people wherever we are living we want to feel a sense of belonging. Suppose you come to this class and nobody looks at you; nobody talks that you will feel left out. So if we are in a circle we want to belong to that circle. We want to be accepted and respected in that circle.
So Karna belongs to a circle of Duryodhana and he wanted to be respected there. So although his nature was good in order to please Duryodhana, in order to be accepted in Duryodhana’s circle, he started doing bad things. So in this assembly what did he do? When Draupadi was gambled he said that, ‘call Draupadi and let us disrobe her, let us dishonor her’. And in this way he did many bad things. Now suppose say this is a circle of right things. And this is a circle of wrong things.
So suppose now speaking lies, is it the right thing to do or a wrong thing to do? How many of you think speaking lies is wrong? So you say speaking lies is wrong.
Now suppose you’re at your home and some murderers are chasing a victim. Some criminals are chasing a person to attack and wound and plunder and kill him. And that person comes to your house and he says, ‘please save me, please hide me somewhere’. And then you hide him there. And then the thieves come and knock at the door. And now they say, ‘we will break the door down, open it. Is there anyone here?’ Now should you speak the truth or should you lie? Lie. Are you doing the wrong thing? Why not? Because you’re lying for a right reason.
So that means you when we talk about morality right and wrong; so there is one understanding of morality which is called as categorical understanding. So categorical morality means this is the right; this is one category. This is wrong; this is another category. And these two are separate categories. What belongs here cannot belong here. What belongs here cannot belong here. So this is categorical understanding of morality. But as they say normally lying is bad but in this particular situation if somebody life is in danger and it can be saved by lying then lying becomes good. So another understanding of morality is contextual morality. Contextual means what is right and what is wrong not always determined in absolute category. It depends on contexts. It depends on time, place and circumstance. It depends on consequence. What will be the effect of particular thing. So from the context what is wrong and what is right is to be decided. It’s not an absolute principle.
So anyway Karna dishonored Draupadi very viciously, and later on when the Pandavas were exiled they stayed in the forest and then they came back and they were supposed to be given their kingdom. So he refused the kingdom. Duryodhana said I will not give any kingdom. If somebody asks, ‘can you come for picnic you say no I’m busy. Actually I would like to come but I have other things to do’. So it’s a polite way of saying. You know if somebody asks to come then ’no’, you don’t even explain and go away from there. That is rude. You say, ’The sky may fall down but I’ll never come with you’. Now that is not just a ‘NO’, that is the expression of arrogance and hatred.
So like that Krishna had himself come to the Kauravas. Krishna is God and even if Duryodhana did not accept Krishna as God. Still Krishna was a great warrior, a powerful king and He deserved respect. Krishna had come to the Kauravas to say that see both of you are cousins and now you have kingdom, you should divide the kingdom in half. Both the Pandavas and Kauravas have right to kingdom. But Duryodhana did not agree. Then Krishna said, ’we want to avoid fighting. So just give five villages. There are five Pandavas, for each of them one-one village’. Now it is a big- big come down. Krishna is going so far out to compromise from a kingdom which had hundreds and thousands of villages; Krishna is saying just five villages. And what did Duryodhana say? He said, ’I will not give enough land to put even the tip of a needle through’. It was very blunt and rude. So this was how Duryodhana was so arrogant.
Then Krishna thought that the war is going to take place. But let us try to minimize the violence, minimize that destruction in the war. So he said that Duryodhana got a lot of confidence from Karna. Because Karna was a powerful warrior. He will defeat and kill Arjuna. So Krishna went to Karna. And he told Karna that, ’see you know that Duryodhana is evil, that Pandavas have a right to the kingdom.
You know suppose say, it’s your birthday, there are two twins. On birthday father brings two birthday cakes and one brother takes both the cakes. And the other brother says, ’you should give me one cake’. He says, ’what to speak of one cake; I will not give one particle also’.
So the Kauravas were doing like that. It is a kingdom I will not give even so little. So Krishna told Karna, ’you know that the Pandavas have right to the kingdom. Duryodhana is evil. And you are a heroic person. You are a wise person. Come on the side of the Pandavas. Come on the side of right and you will be victorious, not only you will be victorious’. If you remember that I said that Karna was also the son of Kunti, the first son. He said, ’you can even become the king. With Duryodhana you will never become the king. So come on the side of the Pandavas’. Now Karna said, ‘no how can I do this? When I was unknown that time Duryodhana helped me, Duryodhana honored me, Duryodhana give me a kingdom and thus because he gave me a kingdom, I had so much honor and depending on me he is fighting, so he’s my friend how can I let down my friend? I cannot give up my friend. So I have taken a promise that I will always be there for my friend and so I will surely be there’.
Now normally if we make a promise to a friend, should we honor that promise or not honor that promise? Normally you keep it. Isn’t it? Suppose your friend says that, ’okay! We will be going out for the picnic. And please come with me’. Then we normally go for a picnic. But then after you started the picnic, the friend has not told you where you’re going and the friend says, ’you know when you start off a picnic let’s go and do some mischief. Now there is a shop over there and the shop keeper is always very rude to us. So we will go and throw stones and break the windows of that shop’. Now when you promise to go there; you are going for a picnic but when you find out that person is doing something wrong, should you go along with that? What is more important? It is good to honor one’s word. But then there are other principles also to be considered. If your friend is telling you to do something wrong, we should not do that.
So what happened with Karna is like I said lying is normally wrong. So not keeping one’s promise is normally wrong. But if the promise makes us do something which is bad then should we keep that promise? No! So what happened with Karna is that he said I’m so devoted to my friend that I would do whatever my friend tells me to do and so he fought on the side of evil. Krishna told him, ’oh Karna you know that the truth will win. The Pandavas will win and you will be defeated. Come on the side of the Pandavas and you will have victory’. So Karna said, ‘No! I will be faithful to my friend, and I will not give up’. Then Krishna embraced Karna. Krishna told him that we will meet on the battlefield. And that is where they met.
Do any of you know how Karna was killed? Who killed Karna? And how was he killed? So what happened, the Kurukshetra War, it went for 18 days. In 18 days for the first 10 days Bhishma was the commander, next five days the Drona was the commander, then for next two days Karna was the commander. So on the 17th afternoon and evening when the fight was going on Karna on one side was wrecking havoc, on the Pandavas forces and the other side the Arjuna was wrecking havoc on the Kaurava forces. And finally both of them met. And that was a long-long fight. It went on and on and everybody knew this was a decisive fight.
There was US open, so in the US Open there are many matches going on initially. There are different courts and the different matches going on simultaneously. But then as you come towards quarterfinals, semifinals, final then there are no other matches going on. Only this match is going. Like that when Karna and Arjuna started fighting; all the other warriors stopped fighting. They said let’s watch this fight. So there were all watching and both of them were fighting extremely well. And nobody could get an upper hand and finally Karna started shooting special arrows, celestial arrows and he started warning Arjuna. Arjuna also started using that kind of arrows. And he countered Karna. Karna had a special weapon; so he took that weapon and in that arrow a demon came inside, entered into that arrow and he made that arrow very powerful.
Normally if you have seen boxing matches, if one boxer is hitting other boxer, so boxers try to deal with in three ways, when somebody hits you dodge the blow, he’s hitting here just dodge it. The other is you let him hit, but in the process of hitting he will come close to you. And when he comes close to you can hit him back. So you tolerate the blow so that you can hit him back, because if he is far away you cannot hit him also. So one is dodge the blow, the other is endure the blow and the third is counter the blow. Counter means if that person is boxing and we hit back at the punches on him. So like that when Arjuna and Karna were fighting they would do one of these three things. When Karna shoot an arrow either Arjuna would send his arrow and cut his arrow down or Krishna would move his chariot away so that the arrow just goes by or third is Arjuna would let that arrow hit him. Now he had armor, because of this armor he said that even if the arrow hits nothing will happen to me. So when Karna send this arrow Arjuna decided to let it hit him. He said it doesn’t matter I shoot him otherwise. But Krishna knew that this arrow is very dangerous. It is a deadly arrow. It could have killed Arjuna. So as that arrow was coming along, so in the Kurukshetra war where was Krishna?
So normally just like in a car the ** is ahead and normally the owner maybe sitting next to him or behind him. So in a chariot the charioteer is ahead and Arjun was behind. So usually the charioteer sits slight at a lower level. Because if the charioteer is at the same level then the warrior will not be able to see only. So Arjuna was at a higher level, Krishna was at a lower level. And Krishna saw this arrow coming and Krishna realized oh this is a dangerous arrow! This is the ‘snake arrow’ it was called. And that arrow was just speeding along. So Krishna suddenly just put his foot down on the charioteer side, there is footrest on the chariot, He just banged his foot down with such force that Arjuna’s chariot sank into the ground. It just went almost 1 ½ feet into the ground. So because of that the arrow which was meant to cut Arjuna’s head, so the arrow supposed to come here but Arjuna went down so arrow hit him here and knocked off his ground. So when he knocked of his ground at that time Arjuna realized that was a powerful arrow. Krishna told him that what the arrow was. So just before the arrow had started off, Karna’s charioteer was another warrior named Shalya, so Shalya had told Karna, ’see shoot at Arjuna’s chest’. Why shoot at his chest? Because even if you go little off target, below the chest is stomach; there also you can wound very seriously. There also if you go you will kill him. And above the chest is the neck. There are also you hit your kill him. So safe shot was at the chest. But Karna just did not want to win but he wanted to win in a spectacular way.
Do any of you know cricket? Baseball is also similar. So now you can just score one or two runs and you can win a match, if that is what required. But some batsmen think at last runs I will head the sixer or I will hit a home run and in trying to hit that gets out. So Karna what he wanted to show not only can I defeat Arjuna but I will shoot my arrow in such a way that Arjuna’s head will fall off. And the head will fly away and everybody will see how I defeated Arjuna. So he shot at the neck and what happened Krishna pulled Arjuna down and then he was knocked off his ground. So now because Arjuna’s chariot has gone down so it had sunk in the ground. At this time if a chariot is gone down Arjuna cannot move because the chariot is down. Arjuna did not tell Karna, ‘hey Karna! Wait! see my chariot cannot move, I chariot has gone down. Stop, stop, don’t fight’. Although Arjuna’s chariot was immobile he kept fighting. And what did Krishna do? Krishna immediately got off from the chariot and He with His huge strength, He lifted chariot from the ground and he brought it to normal condition. And then climbed on the chariot and started fighting again. And later on same thing happened to Karna, his chariot went underground and it did not just come out. So at that time Karna told Arjuna, ‘oh Arjuna! Don’t shoot now, don’t be a coward. Wait till my chariot has come out then I will fight, and then I will kill you. Fight honestly’. So Arjuna put his bow down and waited but then Krishna spoke, Krishna said, ‘oh Karna! it is good that you remember honesty now. So you forget to be honest when it is not convenient for you. Just like if you have a friend you know when he makes a promise you forget to give the promise and when you make a promise you should remember your promises. No promise should go both ways. So Krishna told Karna that, ‘so many times you have been dishonest. What happened to honesty at that time? If it was honesty at that time Arjuna will use the same honesty now. He says Arjuna! Now shoot’. Arjuna shot the arrow and he killed Karna. After Karna was killed within one day the whole war got over. The next day all the other soldiers were defeated or they fled or they were killed, and then they won the war. If we look at Karna’a whole life, he was a good person but because of his desires to please Duryodhana he became bad by that time. So we see in our life also if you have good friends, they will make you, want you to do good things but if you have friends who are doing bad things, in order to belong to them in order to be with them you will start also doing bad things.
The Mahabharata as I said, this is categorical morality and this is contextual morality. So we should be truthful, we should be honest but we have to know what is right and what is wrong. It is not an absolute truth all the time. It varies according to the situation.