By Charu Ramesh
धर्मे चार्थे च कामे च मोक्षे च भरतर्षभ ।
यदि इहस्ति तदन्यत्र यन नेहस्ति न तद् क्वचित् ॥
O King, that which is found here [in The Mahabharata] on dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), kama (desire) and moksha (salvation), can be found elsewhere; but if it is not here, it cannot be found anywhere else.
This is said in the Mahabharata, an Indian epic that is twice the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined. The Bhagavad Gita forms a part of this text – the Mahabharata is the background against which the Bhagavad Gita unfolds. Ostensibly the story of the dynasty of the Kuru kings and the strife between cousin brothers, the Mahabharata is a tale about love, devotion, duty, relationships and all that we face and have to work with, in our day-to-day lives. The characters echo our dilemmas as they wrestle with the right thing to do and often do not find quick and easy answers. And yet, they don’t give up trying.
The Mahabharata is obsessed with the elusive notion of dharma — in essence, doing the right thing. When a hero does something wrong in a Greek epic, he gets on with it; when a hero falters in the Mahabharata, the action stops and everyone weighs in with a different and contradictory take on dharma. The epic’s characters are flawed; they stumble. — Gurcharan Das, The Difficulty of Being Good
This is what makes the epic so relevant and endearing. It is a wonderful and fascinating story about heroes and villains, Gods and sages, desire, lust and envy and much, much more. And at the same time, it is a very down-to-earth, practical teaching about imperfect beings in an imperfect world. It understands us and does not provide pat solutions and prescriptions. Instead it invites us to look deeply, and accepts the fact that even after doing so, we may only come up with the best we can do under the circumstances, rather than a perfect solution. And all the while, it continues to teach us about how to live in the world.
The Mahabharata is a pragmatic reflection of the human condition with its joys and sorrows, and where bad things happen to good people all the time. Despite all this, it never gives up its insistence that we need to act in the right way; it constantly and compellingly shows us what the right way is and why we should follow it.
Come and join us as we start a series of sessions on the Bhagavad Gita this month. The first session will be about the story of the Mahabharata and its perpetual relevance in our lives. More information here.