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Sunday, May 21, 2006

An Incident from Mahabharata

The philosophy of yoga is portrayed in the epics of Hindu scriptures, including the Mahabharata. It is in this epic that we see a story that exemplifies the philosophy of knowledge: knowledge does not belong to you, rather you belong to knowledge. When we realize this concept, we do not become arrogant of our knowledge, and thus, we begin to realize the spiritual dimension of knowledge. Knowledge may be of the world, but the wisdom that we belong to the knowledge and not visa versa, is spiritual knowledge. Let us further explore this concept through a story found in the Mahabharata.

Upon the recommendation of Bhishma, King Dritarastra appointed Drona as the teacher of both the Kaurvas and Pandavas. Drona’s son, Ashwatthama, is also learning under the tutelage of his father since he is around the same age as the others. One of the Pandava brothers is Arjuna, a great archer.

One day, while being trained, Ashwatthama approaches his father, who is also his teacher, and impatiently states, “Father, I heard some people talking and I want to know if it is true.”

“What is it my dear son?” Drona was concerned about is disturbing his son. Ashwatthama asked, “I heard you are teaching a special archery technique to Arjuna. Is this true?”

“Yes, my dear son, but why are you asking this?” Drona asked.

Ashwatthama continued, “Why are you not teaching me this technique? Why are you teaching it to Arjuna?”

Drona calmly responds with a question, “Who is asking me this question? Are you asking as my son or my student? Please clarify this first.”

Ashwatthama was surprised by this question. “Of course, I am your son and I am asking. Don’t you love me? Don’t you think that what belongs to you first belongs to your son before it is shared with others? Is this not true father?”

Drona patiently, yet firmly responds, “My son, I really love you. I love you so much that I live only for your sake. If I ever hear that you have died, I shall die the very next moment.” (During the epic, when the war occurs and Drona hears of his son’s death, that very moment Drona dies)

“But if you love me so much, why do you not give me the knowledge?” Ashwatthama asks.

Drona gives his son great wisdom in the context of his answer which is full of love and affection towards him. “My dear son, as you are my son, all of my property and wealth belongs to you. But my knowledge belongs to my student and not to my son. In reality, it is so because the knowledge does not belong to me, I belong to it. By coming to someone, knowledge gives one freedom and happiness. Because knowledge gives all of that, you have to be humble and respectful to the knowledge. Therefore, you belong to the knowledge and not otherwise. I, therefore, belong to the knowledge. The knowledge does not belong to me. Therefore, I have the responsibility towards the knowledge to pass it on to someone who deserves it.”

Ashwatthama still did not completely understand. He seeks further clarification in this regard, “But I am your student as well. So why do you choose to pass this knowledge on to Arjuna and not me?”

Drona patiently explained, “The knowledge will only be given to the deserving student and not anyone else.”

“But how do you say that I am not the deserving student?” Ashwatthama further questioned.

“My son, the very fact that you are asking this question is evidence that you do not deserve and have not proved your deservedness in the eyes of the teacher. I do not really owe any further explanation. However, out of my compassion for you, I shall answer your question. I shall show you tomorrow, on the exam, that Arjuna is the only deserving student.”

The next day, Drona gave the exam and proved that Arjuna has been the only student who actually obeys his orders perfectly.

This is a beautiful incident where has been a great teacher who did not deviate from his Dharma, or duty, as a teacher and did not come under the spell of his attachment to his son. Though Ashwatthama is his son and he loves him absolutely, he could discriminate the difference between his love and his attachment.

Drona also exhibited that knowledge does not belong to him but he belongs to knowledge and that he must be humble to this knowledge. The stories of the Mahabharata are not just stories giving incidents but they are lessons of a higher and subtler reality told by several characters. It is the story of yoga in practice.


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