Chapter 13 | Exile in the ForestDraupadi weeps. She says, “O King, my heart burns when I think of wicked Duryodhana dwelling comfortably in our palace at Hastinapura having exiled you to the farthest forest. Without doubt he delights in our misfortune. Seeing you squatted here on grass while remembering your jeweled ivory throne, I feel such anguish I can scarcely behold you: your body smeared with rough river mud when once daubed with finest sandalwood paste; your wardrobe once costly silk, now deerskin and tree bark. How may I bear seeing you, once tended by countless servants and now scouring the forest for food?”
Thus her husband Yudhisthira, leader of the dispossessed and exiled Pandava princes, hears her sorrow and her recrimination. Just so does reactive spirit cry out against the slights of an apparently cruel fate, and just so does reflective, considering soul listen. But stronger in his ears rings the song of dharma.
Not so receptive, the ears of emotion-bathed senses stoked by a raging spirit. And the king’s four brothers, Draupadi’s other husbands, join in her sorrow and recrimination.
Bhima, prideful son of the Wind God, rails, “I do not mind this austerity, but the thought of Duryodhana and his brothers enjoying their ill-gotten gains. Why do you suffer in silence? Draupadi is right. Time has come for us to act. What can we gain living like ascetics. You are no yogi but a king, and should walk the paths of kings.” Thus does vanity speak of revenge.
Arjuna, thoughtful son of Indra King of Gods, says, “Duryodhana robbed you of your kingdom. He is like a weak, carrion-eating jackal stealing away the bounty of lions. How can you tolerate it? How can you abandon the riches and position that assured both our virtue and our pleasure? How can you exchange duty and glory for solitude and poverty? Are you blind to that of true value?” Thus do reason and passion speak against wisdom.
And Yudhisthira, Dharmaraj, King of Virtue, bows his head, silent, shamed in recalling the fateful dice game in which dread and anger and pride overtook him. And yet another memory comes as well, words of the ancient Vishnu Purana:
When society reaches a stage where property confers rank, wealth becomes the only source of virtue, passion the sole bond of union between husband and wife, falsehood the source of success in life, sex the only means of enjoyment, and when outer trappings are confused with inner religion… — then are we in the Kali Yuga, the world of today. (Zimmer, 1946, p.15)
Kali means (in one way of seeing her) the worst of everything: struggle, strife, dissension, war. In the dice-play, Kali is the losing throw (ibid.). And Yudhisthira, silent, remembers acquiescing to the challenge of Sakuni, Duryodhana’s agent, cunning in cheating at dice.
Even the twins — sword-champion Nakula, master strategist Sahadeva — together release their woe: “O King, only your carelessness lost us our kingdom. Only in loyalty to you did we allow Duryodhana and his brothers to wrest away our wealth and afflict us with such pain. At your command now we impoverish ourselves and enrich our enemies. Surely was it folly not to kill the Kauravas then and there. Instead we meekly came to the forest. O King, has your despair lost your manliness to pleas of virtue?” Thus does action rail against circumspection.
Yudhisthira breathes, and his shame falls away, but not his silence, not his contemplation. Not the subtly ringing song of dharma, which some call simply “Justice or Righteousness” and others define as “the moral order of the world” (ibid., p.13-14).
Dharmaraj looks up into Draupadi’s eyes. Thus does balanced awareness, tempered soul, still-pointed psyche, greet needful body, anxious emotion, mistrustful mind.
And Draupadi says, “All this is due to evil schemes of sinful men. Does this not make you angry? Why you won’t rise up and destroy the Kauravas I cannot understand. Surely such response after all befallen would accord with morality. Does your discrimination fail?” Thus does immediate pain chasten and chide farther sight.
And most-strong Bhima adopts a conciliatory tone: “The Brahmins and the people all despise Duryodhana, and want Yudhisthira to rule. You can reclaim your kingdom, with Arjuna and I beside you. Who can withstand us in battle? With strategy and strength, let’s win back our rights, our riches, our responsibilities” (Dharma, 1999, pp.237-250). Thus does force encourage virtue to impatience.At last the king answers with a simple nod. Yudhisthtira says, “I cannot blame you for hurting me with your troubled words. Yes, my folly delivered this calamity upon us, for I knew Sakuni could not be beaten yet allowed myself to be drawn into the game. But you must consider as I do the dharma, right action, the necessity and subtlety of duty that requires of us awareness in participation. You would have me rush to redress an apparent wrong, and I say you are correct that wrongs must be made right. But you must consider as I do the dharma, right action, patient recognizing and understanding through witnessing experience and offering conscious example. You would have me wrest back, righteously, what I have lost. Have you given no thought to more than what was lost and to how it was lost, but to why it was lost, beyond an apparent act of folly?
“Consider: as Duryodhana seems bound to act out of avarice and lust and deceit, to succumb to all vice, so am I bound to reside in patience and restraint and candor, in service to all virtue. Such is his dharma, and my dharma, and the dharma between us. I do not refute your complaints, nor refuse action. But have you considered that meeting Duryodhana in his schemes, participating in their unfoldment, serves as conscious witness of vice and as conscious example of virtue, and thus as a chance, however slim, for him to awaken in consciousness?”
The brothers and their wife look surprised, confused.
“Would you have me first example them with war than with wisdom? However painful, however inconvenient, when we speak of justice and what is right, I feel we must remember what justice must serve — which is wisdom and virtue and healing, ever over revenge and despite and recompense.”
The brothers and their wife grow still in silence.
“And so listen now to yourselves and all you’ve said, as I have with sorrow and with open heart, however much reminded of pain and failure and doubt. You speak in your pain and passion, and with vanity, of action and force and of revenge, against patience, circumspection, and wisdom. Did I play the dice game for our enemies alone, to bring to their awareness their avarice? Might I have played that dice game for you loved ones as well? For in losing have we not won this time for cleansing our awareness and claiming our clarity? In losing have we not won riches beyond all ivory thrones, sweeter raiment than every softest silk: gifts of owning our limitations, our tendencies and traits, of bringing into awareness our own failings.
“The Kauravas must be allowed to persecute, for a time, that they may perceive their persecution and thus overcome it, even if only, ultimately, by the hands of justice in fratricidal war — but only if necessary. And the Pandavas must be allowed to recriminate, for a time, that they may perceive their recriminating attachment and thus overcome it, even if only, ultimately, through penance in the forest and with hurtful words to their king — but only if necessary.”
As Dharmaraj sheds a tear, his brothers and their wife look to one another, cleansed and relieved.
•| REFERENCES |•
Dharma, Krishna. Mahabharata: The The Greatest Spiritual Epic of All Time. Los Angeles: Torchlight Publishing, 1999.
Zimmer, Heinrich. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Princeton, NJ: Bollingen Series|Princeton University Press Angeles, 1946.