“What is dharma?” the Norwegian Ambassador spoke excellent English.
From the way he pronounced the word Dharma, it appeared likely that the old man was also a scholar of ancient Sanskrit.
“Sir,” said Ashit Sharma, “I am not interested in philosophy or religion or Yoga or anything like that. As I explained to your Visa officer, I am only interested in getting into the Limca Book of Records. I want to be the first Indian to bicycle backwards around the globe. It is my dream. Please grant me visa.”
“The dictionary says that dharma means religion, or duty, or sacred law- but that is not the root of dharma. Rather, dharma is the field of action in which karma- individual destiny- is worked out.”
“Sir, please believe me, I have no interest in religion or spirituality. Just, I want visa for pure purpose of backwards bicycling only.”
“I am sorry, young man, but the fact is there is a terrible plague of Yoga teachers in Norway nowadays. There are simply too many of them for a small country like ours to absorb. Thus, despite our excellent welfare system, their fate is pitiable indeed. Some have become so demoralized, during the long winter months, that they have taken to Tai Chi. Heed my words, young man, and do not persist in your application for a visa. Such is not the path of dharma. Indeed, we may safely aver, such is the path to bad karma!”
“Sir, I am explaining many times to your Consular officials that I am not at all any type of Yoga teacher. My only passion is for backward bicycling. Due to jealous intrigue in high places, my backwards bicycling tour of Bihar was sabotaged by buffaloes. Nevertheless, I have gained the backing of the shipping tycoon, Ravi Tikkoo, for my round the globe venture. I can backwardly bicycle on the deck of his oil-tankers across all the great oceans of the globe. All that remains is for you to give me a visa so I can get on and off his tankers and backwardly bicycle between ports and docking berths in your fair country.”
“Young man, you make a good argument. Adding a single grain of sand may cause the sand-pile to collapse. Who is to say that an increase in the Yoga teacher population of Norway, even by a single individual, might not lead to a population crash? In the wild, Yoga teachers have no natural predators. Yet, from time to time, their population crashes for no apparent reason. If such were not the case, the whole Solar System would be knee-deep in Yoga teachers by now. The question then arises – why should it be so? What is the secret mechanism at work here? To answer these questions we must return to my starting point- what is dharma?”
“Sir, if it will expedite my visa, I can answer your question. However, due to backwards bicycling is purely secular, scientific, and of socialistic orientation, I will have no truck with the obfuscating language and mystical mumbo-jumbo used by priests, Godmen, Yogi-bhogi gobshites and others of that ilk.
“Instead, I will begin my analysis by pointing out that in order for the two of us to have a conversation, we both must have some method of ordering our own feelings and impressions over the vertical axis of time and secondly a way of distinguishing the thoughts and emotions that arise and are interchanged between people situated around us along the horizontal axis of space. One way to order one’s mental life over time is by appealing to a notion of causation- this is karma- the notion that our successive mental states are intentional in essence and linked over time by a chain of cause and effect. ‘As you sow so shall you reap.’ This notion of karma, however, bears no resemblance at all to our actual mental life. Such intentions as we have are hidden from us, and all action- what is called action in the social realm- is sub-consciously motivated, strategic in nature, and amounts to nothing more than systematic fraud or deception.
“No doubt, in a particular community dedicated to a limited purpose- like the Buddhist Monastery where a certain number of prayer wheels have to be turned, or the Brahmin agraharam where a certain number of rituals have to be performed- it is useful to have a false consciousness- a ‘motivation’ for the ‘method actor’- so that the ensemble runs through its paces like clockwork. But, this so called karma is merely the internalization of the promptings of some charlatan of a Master of Ceremonies. What has it to do with the random harvests of our inner life?
“In what sense, indeed, can we be said to reap as we sow? When all is but windfall fruit why speak of sowing and reaping? How dreary was the miser whose one imaginative extravagance was to invent a Hell & Heaven- or an endless cycle of re-births- and that too just as a way to get his books to balance?
“Of course, you may argue, the concept of karma has a sort of instrumental value. It encourages foresight, rationality, the acquisition of empirical knowledge so as to be better able to judge of the consequences of one’s actions, the investigation of the vasanas- that is the stores of psychomental residue in the unconscious- so as to gain an understanding of one’s unconscious promptings, and so on and so forth. However, the fact remains that karma- as a law of inner life- is nothing more than a fairy story. It has no truth except in a vague poetic sense.
“What of dharma? It is indisputable that other people exist in space. Before all forethought, before all sense of self, it is the emotions and thoughts of others that affect us and, hopefully, the reverse too is the case. Unquestionably, it is by this- our, so to speak, Epimethean, interconnection- that we humans continue to enjoy a sort of species life. Indeed, it is a matter of common observance that simple people feel the emotions of others more strongly than their own. Within one’s own mind, no thought, no emotion pertaining entirely to oneself, ever arises except within a matrix of ambiguities. In every defeat, every humiliation, there is also a sort of liberation. However, it is when an emotion or idea is broadcast, it is when it becomes an event in our species-life, that it gains a definite valency, a fixed meaning. Truly is it said ‘Our face is like water- till we lose it. Our thought is like smoke- till another’s face burns red by it’. Dharma refers to the space we populate with respect to the others around us. It is a mental space, true, but it is something shared with others which comes back to us through language as something fixed and objective- a seeming fact about the world. Good dharma is where joys are amplified and shared, bad dharma is the privatization of sorrow as arising from scarcity, rivalry, the unjust humiliation of the scapegoat so as to bind more closely together those arbitrarily spared.
“Having said this much, it seems to me, I have said enough to now venture an answer to your question. What is the relation between Karma and Dharma? Dharma, indeed, is that by which Fire is stolen from Heaven. But it is Karma, the false consciousness of Karma, by which that theft becomes theft and the Heavens are ever afterwards darkened.”
“Well, I must admit, there is some force to your argument.”The Norwegian Ambassador sounded surprised. “If Yoga teachers started teaching Yoga teachers to teach Yoga teachers to teach Yoga teachers…perhaps, we could Nationalize the industry…and..and get one of your world famous Indian bureaucrats to run it!... that would kill it off, no question! Look, there is not a moment to be lost…You must come with me to Norway right away…the danger is pressing.. you know, I was a young lieutenant in the Army when the Nazis attacked…we must take immediate steps… I will order my Head of Chancery to get us on the first plane out of here. I’m afraid you won’t be able to return home to pack your things…the Security risk, you understand. No, you must remain incommunicado with me till our flight is called… Ach! the peril is grave but we Norwegians are brave…"Ja, vi elsker dette landet.. Stand up! Sing with me!
‘Ja, vi elsker dette landet, som det stiger frem! ‘
All this happened in New Delhi in 1977. I was just a 14 year old school boy at that time. However, as an ardent member of the Backward Bicycling Brotherhood, the name and fame of Shree Ashit Sharma could scarcely have been unknown to me. Yet, to be honest, so it was. At any rate, I have no memory of him, nor indeed of my own passion for Backward Bicycling. Fortunately, my literary agent- who was my Chemistry lab partner at St. Columba’s School, New Delhi,- remembered my hero-worship for Shree Ashit Sharma and exerted himself to get me the commission to write this book.
Like other Indglish authors of a certain age, I had long contemplated writing a sort of modern day version of the Bhagvad Gita. However, it never occurred to me that amongst the distant fiords of Norway an actual, true life, Bhagvad Gita was unfolding. What follows, in the course of this book, is an account of the dialogue concerning Karma and Dharma between Ashit Sharma and the old Norse warrior as they, in tandem, bicycled backwards across a Norway blighted and disfigured by a terrible plague of Yoga teachers. Since in the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna plays the part of the charioteer- the question naturally arises as to whether it was Ashit or the old Ambassador who should be considered as fulfilling that role. I suppose, since the person who sits in front, on a tandem bike, steers the machine, it follows that he is the charioteer. However, the situation in backwards bicycling is more complicated. Indeed, when done properly (in other words with a view to maximizing the entertainment of the spectator) the question of agency in tandem backward bicycling affords many puzzles and aporias to perplex the philosophical mind.
There is a further reason for my mentioning the Bhagvad Gita. The fact is I consider myself- as indeed do most other Indglish authors of no particular intellectual attainment or worth of character- to be like the minstrel Sanjaya- divinely blessed with vision to enlighten the blind King Dhritirashtra- or, in this case, Prof. Michael Witzel, Reigning Monarch of Indology- as to what is actually happening on the perennial battlefield of Kurukshetra-where absolutely nothing of any ethical import occurs but maybe some bandits kill each other- not that it makes any difference because bandits- I mean politicians, pundits, Kings, N.G.O shitheads etc.- we shall always have with us and anyway all those fuckers are like cousins or brothers anyway and so their dragging us into their feuds is just a ploy to make out that they stand for shit or it all means something other than we dun bin getting fucked over and had better emigrate or if we can’t be bothered to do that, at least not pay our electricity bills never mind Income Tax.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Prof. Michael Witzel is really blind but, being a philologist, he can’t see the wood from the trees as far as literature is considered. Religion, of course, is beyond him coz the fucker’s neither fatally stupid nor even fitfully conscious of his own futility and so he has no business in that particular playpen.
However, I must tell you, my decision to appoint myself Sanjaya to Witzel’s Dhritirashtra was not occasioned by purely abstract considerations but arose from our close personal relationship fostered by E-mail. I had originally got in touch with him when he was appointed head of the Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies. It so happened I had recently purchased a second hand computer from a Bengali gentleman. A friend of mine, an expert on computers, told me that my computer had been built in the Stone Age. Thus, it occurred to me, some of the weird documents still stored upon its hard drive- I was actually looking for porn- might well be Electronic Vedas dating back to the Neolithic era. Being a great patron of Indological research, I began incessantly emailing Witzel, over the next few years, offering to sell him these Electronic Vedas for his Journal. Just last week, I received his reply-
I is yore ole frind, Micheal Witzel, Professssor of Indopology at Horward Coll. U.S.
Just now I is attending big big conference in Lagos, Nigeria, but shit happen I is completely robbed and unable to pay big big hotel bill.
I have $528,4975,87735 in my Swiss Bank Account which I am wanting to pay to you. Plez send send $1500 by Fed Ex and also supply your Bank details with all relevant security codes so I can transfer de money..
I immediately wrote back to Prof. Micheal Witzel offering to sell him my Electronic Vedas for the sum of $538,4975,87735 and suggested he could perhaps finance the balance by setting up an African branch of (my own alma mater in matters Religious) the Transcendentally Holy University of God’s Grace Enlightenment and Ecstasy (a.k.a THUGGEE). After all, there must be plenty of White Indologists and other Aryan Invasion Theory nutters who would pay through the nose to avoid a late night visit from Emeritus Professors from an so august an Institution.
Micheal Witzel- or Mojisola as he has asked me to call him- has been in touch, indeed, I was surprised to get a call from him quite late last night- and, I think, this is an idea we may be able to take forward together.
Incidentally, I may mention someone seems to have hacked my e-mail account and a lot of my contacts have received emails purporting to be from me asking them to send money because I am unable to pay my hotel bill in Nigeria. This is strange because normally I only ask for money to get out of Jail in India. Not that anyone sends money but still it raises their spirits. However, it also encourages belief in karma, so, perhaps, by Kant’s Categorical Imperative, it is not a practice you should yourself take up.
But all this is digression. We must get back to the story.
At first, Ashit Sharma sternly refused to go to Norway to tackle the Yoga teacher epidemic. The Norwegian Ambassador- whose name was Vidkun Hjortson- either that, or something else equally unlikely- sought to win him over with all manners of arguments and inducements. But, true Brahmin that he was, Ashit Sharma was not at all won over even after His Excellency, the Ambassador, reversed the order in which he proffered herring and schnapps. Indeed, if anything, Ashit’s determination not to go just increased. Unfortunately, no one noticed. Not only was the poor fellow ejected from India- even his bicycle was left behind. Thus it was only after Ashit and Hjortson had undergone various bizarre misadventures in an Oslo rendered uninhabitable by the ubiquity of Yoga teachers that, in seemingly fortuitous fashion, Ashit came into possession of a tandem bicycle upon which he and Hjortson (by then on the run from neo-Nazis) began beatifically bicycling backwards to Bethlehem so a New World Order might be born. Or not. In fact, definitely not.
However before I can tell you about all that, I want you first to look at this.
(Don’t worry, it is some literary stuff so you can skip chunks.)
Why is Arjuna despondent? Well, he is about to fight the battle of Kurukshetra in which he will have to attempt to kill not just the Head of his Family- his Great Uncle, Bhishma- but also his Guru, Drona, not to mention a whole bunch of cousins, relatives by marriage, guys he went to School with and like kids he hung out with and so on.
Why does Arjuna have to fight? Well, let’s say to keep things simple, it’s coz his elder brother, Yuddhishtra, sez so. Now, Yuddhishtra is a nice guy- opposed to violence, attached to Justice as Mercy- yet, he over-rules even the pleas not to go to war of his super-macho brother Bhima, and their common wife, Draupati, both normally virulent for vengeance.
But, there’s something Yuddhishtra doesn’t know. It’s that he has another brother- an elder brother- that brother is Karna and Karna is absolutely unshakeable in his adherence to the other side. In other words, if anybody steps forward at this point- be it, Kunti, his mother, or Lord Krishna, his maternal cousin, or Bhishma, his paternal Great Uncle, or Vidura, his paternal Uncle, or Drona, his Guru, or the blind King Dhritirasthra- also an uncle and the father of his enemies- or uhm… actually any passing Astrologer or Sage- Yuddhishtra will realize that he is about to commit a sin equal to parricide in raising his arm against his own elder brother.
Arjuna, of course, could say- hey, I’m just following orders!- and get on with the fight. But there’s a problem. Arjuna is a sensitive sort of guy, not simply a testosterone pumped warrior, and what’s more he’s been granted a special sort of insight called caksuci vidya by one of his mates amongst the Gandharva order of demi-gods.
This raises an interesting question. Does Arjuna suspect that his rivalry with Karna might, in the end, be sibling rivalry; that the passions that connect them run deeper than hate and have their source in something stronger that thymos? Arjuna and Karna have dueled before. Moreover, Kunti, their common mother, has been moving behind the scenes to secure Karna’s promise to spare her other sons. Under these circumstances, is it conceivable that, dueling with Karna, dining with Kunti, Arjuna has not picked up, at the unconscious level, any hint, any clue, of the true relationship that exists between him and his rival? Or is it merely the case, as conventional wisdom has it, that Arjuna’s Vishada- his depression, his despondency, his Hamlet like indecision- is occasioned by mere faint-heartedness and spiritual lassitude requiring moral and religious exhortation from the Lord Himself? Surely, at least to properly realize the dramatic potential of the situation, we should permit ourselves the speculation that Arjuna’s Vishada- his unsettlement of Spirit and dissonance of cognition- arises from an unconscious misgiving, a niggling doubt, a faint whisper from the inner man, that what he is embarked upon is rank rebellion, sure to wreck the Polity, and- since the eldest brother takes the place of the father- the moral equivalent of parricide?
What, we might ask ourselves, would have happened if Arjuna, with no Krishna for charioteer, had given way to his vishada, let his depression take the reins? Notice that the scholiasts use the term Vishada- Yoga as the title for this, the first, chapter of the Bhagvad Gita. Clearly, in some sense, Depression, too, is a path to Union, a path to Truth. Imagine unconquerable Arjuna turning back from the battlefield, slinking away to some forest or desert like a wounded cur. Imagine him living on in abjectness- supporting and compounding his dishonor with the drunkard’s flask or addict’s pipe- ruing but to repeat and repeating but to rue visits memorious to the scene of his undoing while savouring a sort of horripilating delight in the discovery of yet baser motives for his desertion and, under the fair mammalian form of the ethical scruples he had credited himself with, nothing but the slimy writhing of the reptile in the id.
What then? Arjuna sees himself as he is, as he has become, the lowest of sentient beings. Meanwhile, the World wags on without him well enough. Certainly- knowing himself now to have been more devilish than Duryodhana, more snake-like than Sakuni- he realizes it was actually a good thing he ran away. Even his brothers fared better, being killed cleanly in battle rather than having fallen victim to his own jealous intrigues- for what unconscious motive could Arjuna have had for his desertion except to bring about the deaths of his brothers, leaving him free to have Draupati- no! to have Mother Kunti!- all to himself?
Better, then, that Duryodhana rule. And, bliss indeed- knowing now the alternative- to live even so little in to his Millennial reign.
Thus, on the path of vishada, Arjuna has achieved wisdom. He loves the World as it is without any love for the World and, thus, now in every conceivable World, is equally content to either perish or persist. His Yoga is complete.
Ashit Sharma’s Vishada Yoga
At his birth, great astrologer predicted- baby will become Chakravatin (Universal Emperor) through power of Backward Bicycle only. Unfortunately, Bicycle was Election Symbol of opposition party and, moreover, rising power of Backward Castes spelt doom for Brahmin influence in the State Legislature.
In consequence of this inauspicious omen, Ashit and his mother were ejected from the mansion of his grand-father (an old fashioned Congress M.P in New Delhi) in disgrace and were forced to reside for fourteen years in remote jungle where his father was posted as Forest Officer. Since fourteen years more than sufficed for every last tree to be cut down, Ashit was sent to good Convent Schools and later enrolled in Engineering College. At this time he was not riding bicycle backwards.
After passing various exams, his svayamvar was held with due pomp and ostentation. Various great political warriors competed to win his hand for their daughter. Finally, one of them made an offer that hit the mark and Ashit was taken up in his chariot to go meet his new owner. “I have mentally espoused another!” said Ashit, “Kindly let me go. Let your daughter slake her lust upon some other luckless fellow.” His abductor was pitiless. “Arre, mentally espouse as many women as you like- have four wives like the Muslims- but know also this- my daughter will be the fifth.”
Ashit was seated upon the horse for his baraat- marriage procession. Hoping to escape, or at least delay the inevitable, he tried to make the horse trot backwards. It was unable. Ashit’s cousin was bicycling alongside him. They exchanged glances. It was a work of a moment for the two of them to somersault off their respective modes of conveyance, exchange clothes in mid-air, and ride off in different directions- Ashit bicycling backwards while his cousin forwardly horsed.
However, mystics say, actually, above story is not true. Cousin was in love with the bride. Backwards he bicycled bitterly for unable to bear the sight of the glittering marriage mandap blighting all his hopes.
Shantideva says ‘if you want to save yourself and another in a hurry- swop selves.’ This technique is called paratman parivartana. So actually that’s what happened- not the Kung Fu somersaulting into the air, exchanging clothes and so on. Anyway, Ashit’s backward bicycling bid was blocked by buffaloes. Bystanders asked the question- ‘due to why you are backwardly bicycling rather than proceeding to the marriage mandap where you will receive rich food? Something fishy in this. Bastard, the Engineer Babu has changed places with some uneducated cousin of his! Having swallowed the dowry money, that family of scoundrels is trying to cheat us! Shall we slaughter them all?”
At this time, Ashit rose to the occasion and explained to those ignorant peasants the true importance of backward bicycling for India and Third World. Hearing his words, the blessed Martyrs in Heaven showered down rose-petals consecrating him to his heroic task. The local branch of the Brahmin Sabha advertised Ashitji as athlete extraordinaire. Prodded by his cook, who happened to hail from that village, a Kashimiri Brahmin shipping tycoon gave offer of free ocean transport. Thus was launched Ashit’s backward bicycling bid for WORLD Recognition.
Of course, all that took time. Thus, what actually happened was this- the peasants poured scorn on Ashit’s (except it wasn’t Ashit, at all, but his cousin, Parikshit’s) backward bicycling claims- laid hands on him and delivered him to the marriage mandap in time for the girl to get the right groom. So all’s well that end’s well, except, to hush up the scandal, Ashit felt obliged to actually go through with the backward bicycling thing especially coz his prospective father-in-law had unexpectedly won his grandfather’s seat and his own folks were well miffed. On the other hand, of course, he’d gotten out of marrying the girl who-oddly enough didn’t actually look anything like what Parishit said- quite the reverse actually which is why this chapter is titled Ashit’s Vishada
Except things don’t work out like that. Why? It seems, the Kurukshetra War has to happen. God has his hit-list and it’s just more economical if cousins bump each other off while God swans around driving a chariot while- like the stereotypical Cockney cabbie of yesteryear- carrying on a cock-eyed discourse about Religion and Politics.
True, Krishna or Kunti- or even Dhrtarashtra, the blind father of the bad guys who is being kept in the picture by Sanjaya- could stop the war before it begins by revealing Karna’s true birth. However, Karna has refused to permit this. He prefers to remain ‘lower caste’. His wish is for the aristocrats to attain Heaven, dying the way they lived, sword in hand. Thus, the battle of Kurukshetra goes ahead as the apotheosis, but also the holocaust, of the aristocracy. It is a vishodHana, a ritual cleansing, a purgative blood-letting, a veritable Götterdämmerung of the Lords of the Earth. Here falls Bhishma- who captured Princesses by the strength of his arm, to give brides to his nephews, completely forgetting that every woman- even a Princess!- has the right to chose her own husband-and here falls Drona, the Brahmin Guru, who orders the ‘out-caste’ Ekalavya to sacrifice his thumbs so that Prince Arjuna will be the greatest archer in the world- completely forgetting that it is allegiance to Truth, not the accident of Birth, that makes one worthy of instruction. By this act, Drona falls- he is acharabrashta, a Brahminbandhu merely- but his pique against his friend King Drupada, his desire to rival him in possession of lands, had set him on the path to destruction already. Here falls Duryodhana, the ultimate Dynast, and here, by his mother’s curse, is sown the seed for the destruction of the Vrishnis- Lord Krishna’s people- and though, by Karna’s boon, the fallen Kings attain Heaven- the Celestial Realm is by their very influx rendered unworthy ever after of being the object of spiritual striving and thus everywhere we look the cry goes up for Moksha, Liberation, release from the cycle of birth and death, the Natural and the Supernatural.
What is this story whose plot twist is that plots don’t matter, what is this branching which leads us always back to the root? What is our vishada- facing the Gita- seeking to interpret the Gita- which, guided by Krishna or unguided by Krishna, leads us always back to Krishna knowing there was never anything but Krishna and, in that darkness, dreams too were sleep?
Kurukshetra’s always happen and always before it and beyond it, lies this vishada and this Gita, this sorrow and this song.
Yathe icchasi tathaa kuru
As you wish, so do.
Thus did Dharma- what binds people together in ties of mutuality- appear in propria persona to deny the jurisdiction of the councils of Family, Tribe, College or Kingdom- any collective, any existentially constructed mimesis of some Justice’s Platonic form- thus firmly re-establishing Religion, Morality’s Fortress, with ramparts pre-ruined, foundations self-sapped, so God invade India- the gods chaff to His flail.
Evolutionary Biology has sought to explain Depression, including post natal depression, as a sort of testing for support. If I shut down for a while, will the people I’ve committed to think it worthwhile to support me? If not, I’ve been mistaken in them. I should move on. Another way of saying the same thing is to speak of a testing- not for support- but for redundancy. If things pretty much work out as they should without me, I’m redundant- I should move on.
Sounds simple enough don’t it? But, there’s a problem. Socio-biology explains that there is an advantage in cultivating a culture of lying, sending out false signals, disguising-even from yourself- your need for those you truly need and pretending to need- to be absolutely unable to do without- those of no use whatsoever. Indeed, so little do what wills its survival and what blindly works that will coincide that we are all but chthonic Chimaeras with the eyes of Apollo- to whom it were mortal to glimpse the true form under which we propagate- and the broader streams of Life too seem but cascading symbioses of deceit- all deceit so finely interwoven as to form a seamless web- and the Depressive position, in especial, but a deceit spun upon deceit- the shed skin, the Lebenswelt we quit and do not quit, of the snake in the spine. And this is adaptive because the other side of the equation is that ecological niches will be always occupied just as Kurukshetras will occur and Pandava or Kaurava, Eutheria or Metatheria, events will unroll pretty much as they would have if we’d never been born.
Lord Krishna gives us a surprising formula for overcoming the despondency that arises from a sudden waking to this web of lies. The episode occurs before the great duel between Karna and Arjuna. King Yuddhishtr, bested in battle by Karna and fearing for his brother Bhima, turns, on his stretcher, in great humiliation and bitterness of mind, to berate Arjuna with ill deserved taunts of cowardice and inactivity. He says Arjuna should hand over his divine weapon, the Gandiva bow, to someone more worthy to wield it. Arjuna gives way to fierce resentment. He is preparing to draw his sword on his elder brother for, as he tells Krishna, he has vowed to kill the man who would have him yield his bow to another. It seems the divine weapons that the different heroes have acquired over the course of the epic are all, in some sense, part of their essence. They will kill rather than part with, or, indeed, be forced to share, these instruments of universal death. The Gandharva, Chitrangada, we may recall from the Book of Origins felt similarly about his own name. He slew Crown Prince Chitrangada after three years locked with him in mortal combat- thus permitting the crown to pass to Vichitraveera- the guy with the strange sperm- thus beginning the Kuru dynasty’s problems with finding legitimate heirs. In semiotics the distinction is made between paradigmatic and syntagmatic analysis. It appears, in the Mahabharata, that the divine weapons which come in to the possession of heroes are paradigmatic- they serve to identify each warrior with a specific deity or super-natural being- though often ironically by cross-gifting. The Kurukshetra battle then becomes the earthly mirror of a contentious polytheistic Universe. However, at another level, these weapons are bound together syntagmatically- since they can’t be used against each other without cancelling the Universe- narrative, plot, wiles and tricks- the different fortes of the three characters named Krishna- everything that is interpolated, History that is, occurs to permit the fulfillment of the glorious futility of each. Thus they serve to qualify each other’s meaning and render their wielders meaningless. No wonder then that Arjuna feels an irresistible urge to draw his sword on his brother. The Gandiva bow is to him what he is to Yuddhishtra- a divine weapon- but both are cross-gifted; Gandiva coming to Arjuna from Agni not Indra and Arjuna’s fealty to Yuddhishtra springing from Karna’s refusal of the title of Kaunteya- Kunti’s first born.
At this point, stating the obvious, we might think, Krishna explains that Arjuna does not know the Scriptures, his intuitions about morality are faulty. However, there is a way he can both fulfill his vow of killing his insulter without incurring the terrible crime of fratricide. He can insult his insulter. An insult-a public humiliation, as the Rabbis deduce from the story of Tamar-is very death to an honorable man. That is why some Rabbis count refusal to cause the public shaming of another as one of the reasons a Jew should be prepared to lay down her own life. Krishna, clearly, is on the side of such Rabbis in what follows. Urged by Krishna, who has his own reasons for counseling this piece of adharma, Arjuna now reproaches Yuddhishtra in round terms, condemning him for his addiction to gambling, his weakness in war, his prevarication in peace, the all-round disaster that he has been to his family. Hearing this, Yuddhishtra prepares to cede sovereignty to his second brother, Bhima, and retire to the forest. He fully accepts the force of Arjuna’s impeachment. However, Arjuna- unable to bear up to what he has just done- is ready to draw his sword upon himself in a paroxysm of self-loathing. Krishna points out a way in which he can slay himself and yet not be guilty of the wretched crime of suicide. Strangely, it consists of praising himself- making a full statement of his achievements and potential- an act of hubris, we might think, likening oneself to the immortal gods- but, not so, according to Krishna, “Declare now, in words, thy own merit. Thou shalt then, O Partha, have slain thy own self!"
Since, Lord Krishna, in the Geeta, has spent a lot of time declaring his own merit- he has even shown Arjuna his Visvarupa, his cosmic form interwoven of all there is and isn’t and can’t be and can’t not be- in other words pretty much the horrible form none of us dare face in the mirror- thus, Lord Krishna has slain himself already. Gandhari’s curse is redundant.
This being so- all Revelation being the Suicide of God; Scripture His overdose of sleeping pills- Arjuna, now praising himself in terms as lofty as Homer’s Ajax, is only laying the ground for his reconciliation with Yudhishtra; his humble apology and heartfelt obeisance, the renewal of his vow of absolute fealty, his setting forth to vanquish the common enemy in obedience to his Duty and his King. In other words, everything that’s just happened hasn’t happened and if Lord Krishna really has slain himself it too matters nothing. The sword He drew upon Dharma and Karma returns unstained to its scabbard. Or, to be less brutal about it, let us say, mindful of their inherent flaws, their enslavement to blind chance, deceitful forms, He binds himself to establishing their universal sovereignty but on terms more benign, less capricious.
As is illustrated by this
PARABLE OF CELESTIAL WISDOM
At one time Wisdom sought to extend itself without limit. The Gods- afraid there would be no room left for Creation if Wisdom ceaselessly burgeoned- merged together, took the form of Doubt and appeared before Wisdom.
“Surely it is unwisdom to seek that which you can not in some part signify- so state what it is you seek when you thus limitlessly extend yourself.”
“I seek One wiser than I.” Wisdom replied and consequently was reborn on Earth as a woman. Her very wise husband, the King, his very wise spiritual preceptor, the RajGuru, and the equally wise chief minister, the chief minister, all travelling together in a chariot had very wisely been killed leaving her with an idiot son.
‘By the accumulated good karma of my previous births,” the dowager Queen said to her son, “the wisest Guru and the most able Statesman are even now hastening to your presence. In fact here they are. Now, in front of the whole court, do you examine them asking- ‘What is Religion? What is Policy?” and then, after appearing to give ear with a lively show of intelligent interest, appoint them the twin supports of your reign.”
The idiot immediately addressed the two strangers saying, “What is Religion? And ..urm.. what is …urm… did I say Religion? Well, that’s what I want to know- what it is? Not what the word it is. I mean what … urm … what I said is. Or was. I mean what I said was it. Or whatever.”
The first man immediately gave a long and very subtle speech, each highly illuminating line of which read something like this ‘Religion is not, as is commonly supposed, such and such practice or belief rather it is actually the complete opposite as is proven by such and such scriptural quotation and such and such episode in religious history.’
The second man, given his turn to speak, quickly began listing, in order of priority, the different needful steps the administration must hasten to take along with sage advice as to how to achieve each objective with the greatest economy and expedition.
“Stop!” said the King, “I have heard enough. You and you alone are fitted to be my Spiritual preceptor. That other asshole, who mentioned Religion at least twice in every sentence, can be my Politics go to guy- the whassisname? Chief Minister.”
Hearing the words of her idiot son, the Queen Mother dropped dead, the purpose of her incarnation fulfilled- for she had at last met one wiser than herself- that’s right, a Republican.