by Swami Krishnananda
The Udyogaparva, which describes in a beautiful manner the assembly of the princes of the time in the court of Virata, goes further into greater detail of the contemplations of these princes. There are difficulties in the decisions to be taken—what is to be done? There are various opinions coming forth from various parties. Whenever a personality faces the world, the universe in front of it, it has various interpretations of it. Are we to make friends with it? Are we somehow or other to adjust ourselves with it, to make its law our own law? Are we to change the world, or are we to change ourselves—which is better? What is the relationship between me and the world? These were the questions, the deliberations of the great assemblies that were held prior to the war of the Mahabharata. Ambassadors were sent on both sides; there was concourse between one party and the other party. A decision was difficult to take. We cannot finally come to a conclusion as to our relationship with the world. We always have favoured the things of sense and the delights of reason. This difficulty persists even to the last moment, until doom, we may say, because the evaluations of things in terms of worldly experience continue even at the last point of spiritual aspiration.
God-realisation is interpreted in terms of sense experience and psychical satisfaction. If we read the history of the evolutionary process of religion, we find that people always hesitated to touch the last point, and always satisfied themselves with everything but that last deciding factor. It will not be clear to us what is it that we are actually asking for, unless the logical limit of the conclusion is reached. But we never want to reach the logical conclusion of anything. We leave everything halfway. We somehow or other adjust ourselves with the law of things and then allow the things to rule us, though in a different manner. We may not be servants, vassals or underlings of an emperor, but the subjection continues. The freedom of the spirit is not a possession of any status or an acquisition of a power that is empirical, but a complete dissolving of all empirical values and an awakening into a new set of values altogether, which the mind at present can never even dream. Hence to think God would be a futility. The mind cannot think, because all thoughts are conditioned by evaluations, which again are nothing but interpretations of sense.
The decision is taken by God Himself—man cannot take the decision. And Sri Krishna took up the lead in this path of what decision is to be taken finally. Is the universe as an object to be retained, even in a subtle form, or is it to be abolished altogether? Is it to be absorbed totally? And do we have to see to the deathbed of the entire objective existence, or is it necessary to strike a lesser note and come to an agreement with factors which are far below this level of extreme expectation? Yudhishthira was wavering, he could not come to a conclusion; and we too are wavering. It is not easy for us to love God wholly, because that would mean the acceptance of the necessity to dissolve the whole world itself in the existence of God, and one would not easily be prepared for this ordeal. “It is true that Krishna is my saviour and my friend, philosopher and guide, but Duryodhana is my brother-in-law and my cousin—how can I deal a blow to him? Bhishma is my grandsire and Drona is my Guru. My own blood flows through the veins of these that seem to be harnessed against me in the arena of battle.” So there is a double game that the spirit plays between love of Krishna and love of the world, love of relations, love of individuals and love of family contacts, or to put it in a clinching manner, love of empirical values.
But God is an uncompromising element. There is no compromise with God. Either we want Him, or we do not want Him. There is no half-wanting God; that does not exist. But if we want Him really, as we would expect Him to understand the situation and expect us to want Him, it would be a terror to the ego, and that is the last thing which anyone would be prepared for. Who wants more with the world, because that is an undecided adventure. Every battle is undecided as to its future—it is only a game of dice, as it were. And so, an intellectual, philosophical or metaphysical acceptance of the absoluteness of God would not really cut ice before the practical necessity to face a reality that is there as a terror before us. The world has something to tell us, in spite of our acceptance of God’s supremacy. We may be intellectually prepared, but emotionally unprepared. There is something in us deeper than our understanding, and that is the voice of the spirit within us. While it is decided that God is supreme and the demand of God is unconditional, which means to say there cannot be any kind of acquiescence with the law of the world, there is a tentative acceptance of it; but a string is tied to this acceptance.
The leader of the Pandava forces, from the point of view of military strategy, was Arjuna. It was he who finally agreed that war was the only way—there was no way out. But it is he who became diffident, in contradistinction to the spirit of valour which he exhibited earlier. There is a great mystical situation before every seeker also. Every one of us is convinced that God is All. Who is not convinced? We have read the scriptures; we have listened to the Srimad Bhagavatam; we have attended satsangas; we have heard so many sermons from Mahatmas. We agree that the realisation of God is the ultimate goal of life and nothing else is worth attaining, but this conviction is not enough when the task is there before us is as a daylight reality. Any kind of psychical, intellectual, rational or philosophical acceptance is not enough to touch the bottom of the spirit within us. Our whole soul has to accept it, and it appears perhaps that Arjuna’s entire soul did not accept that venture. So when the whole world was there glaring or staring at Arjuna in the form of an army arrayed before him, he changed his attitude immediately—and everyone will be subjected to this quandary of changing of ideas.
The compromise with the condition of the human individual is a very strong impulse which has been planted in us since ages past, and no one wishes to die. To enter into the field of battle is to be prepared for death, whatever be the reason behind the justice of the war. But death is the last thing that anyone would be prepared for, because all life is for mere being. If being itself is threatened, what is the purpose of action? All my adventures, all my efforts, all my activities are ultimately to perpetuate my being—my life is to be secure. If I am embarking upon an activity which is going to threaten my very life itself, then I will have to think thrice before taking a step in that direction. Arjuna was despondent. “It appears as if we are going to lose everything, and the very intention behind which this great adventure was embarked upon is at stake. The very goal is being frustrated; the very purpose is not going to be served. The purpose of war is victory—nobody says that the purpose of war is defeat. But is it sure that victory is going to be ours? Perhaps the victory may be of the other side. Where is the guarantee that the victory is going to be ours?”
This doubt will come at the last moment, at the critical point when everything is ready to strike the match. When the fire is going to be ignited, at that very moment the spirit doubts. “Doubts are our traitors,” says Milton in a passage. Our enemies are our doubts, and finally we have a doubt after everything is clear; and that final doubt crushes down all that we have done up to this time. Finally the doubt comes: Is it after all going to bring anything, or am I going to lose everything under the pretext of going to gain God to attain salvation? This doubt will not present itself in the earlier stages. The most ferocious enemy always comes later; the lesser powers are released earlier. In every war, in every battle, the minor powers are used first and the powerful reserves are kept for the last action.
So we seem to be very complacent and everything seems to be all right; all doubts are removed and we are clear in our heads. But there is a subtle pull which is secretly kept inside our own psyche, and that pull will manifest itself as a final doubt of the ‘perhaps’. A peculiar ‘perhaps’ will come out. “Perhaps I am not up to the mark. There is some defect in the whole bold procedure that has been undertaken, and I am going to lose.” Buddha had this. A great master, a genius like Buddha had this feeling. “After all, this has brought nothing; tomorrow I am going to die.” This is what Buddha also felt. “I think today is the last day. All my austerities have brought nothing; I have wasted my efforts. I have lost this world completely. All the pleasures of life are gone, and nothing else is going to come. Okay, this is the last moment. I am going to breathe my final breath.”
This what a man like Buddha felt, and why not anybody else? The great mystics, whether of the West or the East, had these difficulties. These problems are described in various types of nomenclature as maya, Mara, Satan and what not. But all these descriptions are only enunciations of the peculiar reaction that is set up by the world, the universe as a whole in its encounter with the spiritual aspirations of man. These powers of the universe are again like the powers of a large army. The lesser powers come first and the larger powers are kept for reserve in the end. There are layers and layers of cosmos. We have heard of various lokas—bhu-loka, bhuvar-loka, suvar-loka, mahar-loka, jana-loka, tapo-loka and satya-loka. These lokas are nothing but the various layers of the powers of the universe, as we have layers inside us—annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, etc. The inner layer is more powerful than the outer, and when we somehow or other succeed in overcoming one particular level, the other one comes in with its power and faces us. These encounters from the various levels of objective power are the descriptions of the Mahabharata battle in the Bhishmaparva, Dronaparva, Karnaparva, etc., all of which are enunciations of the spiritual encounter of the soul with the layers of the cosmos in its attempt at the realisation of the Absolute.