Life Lessons from Krishna in Vyasa’s Mahabharata

“You can never achieve happiness by pursuing desires, Suyodhana!” He says, adding “You must be happy and only then shall you attain the object of desire.”

The name Krishna, or Vasudeva Krishna, has become synonymous with the Bhagavad-Gita. But not many may know that it was not named so by the Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa a.k.a. Veda Vyasa a.k.a. Vyasa, author of Jaya which eventually came to know as the Mahabharata.

As a matter of fact the gist of hymns that are now known as Bhagavad-Gita was actually a very small part of a Chapter of Vyasa’s Mahabharata dedicated to the grand-old man of Kuru Dynasty – Bhishma. The chapter is entitled as Bhishma Parva.

After Bhishma was mortally wounded on the battlefield, Vasudeva Krishna inspires Yudhishthira to seek the sage warrior, who protected the very throne which the Pandavas were now desirous of. The discussion between Yudhishthira and Bhishma is vast. During discussion Yudhishthira asks a great many questions concern all aspects of life, starting from birth, childhood, women marriage, differentiating between good and bad people, right decision making, economics, including many others. Bhishma Parva which compiles the discussion between Bhishma and the future king of Hastinapura for over 9 days ends with the passing of Bhishma.

The question nobody seems to be asking is: Why did not Vyasa dedicate this or any chapter to Krishna in Mahabharata?

In Bhagavad-Gita which is often wrongly translated using Panini’s Sanskrit instead of Vedic Sanskrit, Krishna repeatedly speaks of war. It inspires Arjuna to wage the war. And therefore, most detractors of Krishna have often called him a war monger.

Vyasa himself describes Krishna as Yogeshwar – the Grand Master of Yoga. And to understand the life and times of Krishna, neither Bhagavad-Gita nor the much later book called Bhagavatam are competent enough. Bhagavatam which followed Panini Sanskrit defines Krishna as a Bhagavan – which can be interpreted as God. But for Vyasa, he was a Purushottama – the finest among MEN.

In Vyasa’s Mahabharata, across Anushasana and Udyoga Parvas, Krishna tries his level best to broker peace between Pandavas and Kauravas. Even before agreeing with the war; he asks Suyodhana, later corrupted as Duryodhana, to give Pandavas just five villages. It is only when Suyodhana refuses with a declaration that “I will not even allow Pandavas to have land enough to bang a nail,” that Krishna begins preparing Pandavas for The Great War.

Even during the war, the life of Krishna is unconventional. Due to personal obligations Krishna is forced to hand over the army to Duryodhana. Not desiring to kill his own people in the battle, yet unable to relinquish his commitments to the PandavasKrishna agrees to fight by the Pandavas side not by Shastra (weapon) but by Shaastra (intellect). He takes a menial job of being a charioteer to Arjuna. And yet the war would not have won by the Pandavas without Krishna’s astute tactics on the battlefield.

Krishna shows with his actions the fact that: Friends do not need to have money, physical prowess or material resources to help us; if they have the right intent and unmatched intellect, they can make a great difference.

Even after the war, Krishna neither gets, nor seeks, anything as “spoils of war.” Having seen his entire army and his own people dying on the battlefield, he seeks no favors from Yudhishthira. And having achieved his objectives, he then quietly retires to the woods. There is no mention of the death of Krishna in the original Mahabharata written by Vyasa.

To call Krishna a “war monger” or even a “god” is to our disadvantage. By denouncing a personality such as Krishna or by making him a “god” we have achieved nothing.

Vyasa’s Krishna has a lot of wisdom to offer. Most importantly Krishna asked everyone to be their own hero. Krishna’s emphasis in Bhagavad-Gita is on “Maam” or “Self” – self is not mind or the body; but the true conscious self or Aatmana.

He enlightens Arjuna to the greatest truth – Paramartha – that our true conscious self is everlasting, never dying and in a state of perpetual bliss. He proves how people confusing themselves for their mind fall prey to their own egos and suffer great pain.

Krishna emphasizes the importance of Yoga as the path of wisdom as well as pursuit of excellence.

“You can never achieve happiness by pursuing desires, Suyodhana!” He says, adding “You must be happy and only then shall you attain the object of desire.”

By making Krishna as a God we have deprived ourselves to learn and enumerate the life of this sage being. When we make men into a hero or heroes into gods – we set a barrier; one that which nobody can match. By respecting these sage individuals as wise men, but men, we could achieve so much.

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