3 life lessons we all can learn from the Mahabharata | ethics & values of Mahabharata


The Origin Story of the World's Greatest Warrior


In the Mahabharata war, the two opposing sides were two sections of the same family. One clan represented the 'dharma' or social order (Pandavas) and the other represented the 'adharma' or the lack of morals (Kauravas) Eventually, the Pandavas win the war, primarily on the back of their greatest warrior - Arjuna. While the 5 Pandavas and 100+ Kauravas were still in their childhood, they were brought up by the same teachers, under the same roof. Their chief guru, Dronacharya once decided to teach them a crucial life skill through an archery test.

The princes were told to shoot the eye of a wooden bird that was placed on a tree. All the princes were asked to describe what they saw before they took their shot. Some described their surroundings, some described the branch of the tree, some described the entire bird. None of them were allowed to take their shot. Eventually, Arjuna stepped up. When asked what he could see, all Arjuna said was 'The eye of the bird'. Drona asked him, 'Anything else at all?' Arjuna stuck to his answer - 'I only see the eye of the bird.' He was allowed to take the shot. The eye of the bird was destroyed

The art of winning 

Right before the war began, the Kauravas (led by Duryodhana) and the Pandavas (led by Yudisthira) started recruiting kingdoms, tribes & warriors for their armies. A key figure in this game was Krishna. He was widely regarded to be an incarnation of God by most people, as he is in the modern-day. But he was also a powerful king with his own kingdom. Duryodhana never acknowledged his divinity, throughout his life. But lusted for the power of his troops for his army. Arjuna (Yudisthira's brother) and Duryodhana happened to try and recruit Krishna's kingdom on the same day. When they arrived at his palace, they found him asleep. Both patiently waited for him to wake up. Duryodhana waited while sitting near his head. Arjuna humbly waited while sitting near his feet.

When Krishna woke up, he asked the two cousins to pick between his army and himself. He also told them that he would not actively take part in the war as a warrior. He would simply act as an advisor. Arjuna was allowed to pick first and he instantly chose Krishna himself, over the powerful army that he commanded. Duryodhana left the room ecstatically. Thinking that the large army made his side more likely to win. But secretly Arjuna knew that he had already won the war. Moral: When God (and goodness) is by your side, it is a more powerful force than even a large army. Your victories are decided by how strong your ethics are and how deep your faith is.  


Choices are everything

A key character in the Mahabharata story is Karna. The 'tragic hero' of the story. Without getting into the details of his origin story, it is important to know these things about Karna. He was widely considered to be an even more powerful warrior than Arjuna. Unlike the princes, he was brought up by a charioteer. His 'peasant' upbringing was made null & void by Duryodhana, who crowned Karna the King of Angas (modern-day Bengal). Since Duryodhana elevated Karna's status, Karna vowed to be a life long friend to him. Knowing fully well that Duryodhana was not an ethical human being.

Karna, on the other hand, was noble and just. But in the Mahabharata war, an event which pitted good against evil... Karna chose the side of evil. Because of his past promises. Eventually, Karna is killed by Arjuna in the war. Without getting into the details of his death, here is a key lesson. Right before his soul leaves his body, Krishna has a deep last conversation with Karna. His main message to him was very similar to my favourite quote from the movie, 'Batman Begins'. "It is not who we are underneath, it is our actions that define us." Moral: No matter how noble your thoughts are, it is all about what you do in the world. A clean internal world can easily be overpowered by a filthy external one. While being conscious of your thought process can be considered noble... True nobility lies in the goodness of your actions. Victory happens through good actions, not just good thoughts.

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