The Mahabharata

by Garry Jacobs
originally written in 1978

Principles of Yoga or philosophy are best understood when seen expressed in life events. It is there one appreciate it, particularly when it is one's own life. The efficacy of prayer, the correspondence of one's own temperament with life events, the sequence of events governed by cause and effect, all make themselves meaningful in events of life. The ancient Indian life was pervaded by the spirit of Veda and was governed by a native faith. Life at the level in which it is lived is of one consciousness with differing stress in different fields. All events in a given time tie together through a similarity of consciousness and life moves guided by the effects of which the present is the cause. At any given time there are a host of events testifying to the numerous principles underlying it. Also it is one integrated whole at the given time and that bit is a small part of a bigger whole the period is. Men are most interested in their own temperamental traits and that of others and the ways in which all of them related to the central unifying knot. If each individual incident is reviewed against the central principles of the governing philosophy the incident lends itself to a fine analysis that is satisfying. But its richer fullness lies in the way in which it relates to the whole. The truth of the central philosophy can be illustrated from every aspect of human temperament and every description of life situation.

As the whole life of a period is governed by the truisms of the principles of life and life can be lived in such a way that a collectivity is ignorant or conscious or indifferent of it. Lived in whatever fashion the truisms will hold good. The direction that society gives itself will differ depending upon the dynamism of its faith. Mahabharata was written to illustrate:

1) the truisms of life in general in the context of inviolable human nature, and

2) the steadfast direction society can give itself in the light of its central faith within the ambit of the obstinate human nature.

The central figure was Krishna and every known or knowable human characteristic and behaviour was brought in as a character of the story. Real historical situations were chosen as themes and main plots and sub-plots were so chosen as to fit all into a whole piece. The central living in the divine, its modifications by the course of events, its finer adjustments by individual differences and its limitations by the obstinacy of human nature, its guidance by the cause and effect principle and how all is presided over by the Divine Intention make up the story of Mahabharata. It is said what is not there cannot be found in life. A visionary who sees life as a whole and whose artistic talent embraces such a wide field has come out with such a narrative. It is not a mere story. At every step it brings out the central truth of spiritual living in daily life constantly pointing out to the guiding finger of the Divine along the path of its own intention.

The philosophy of Integral Yoga that proclaims ALL LIFE IS YOGA is such a centrally valid faith and one of its cardinal points is to fully respect the truisms of life, i.e. it awaits the consent of Nature to push ahead without trying to impose the temporary powers yoga acquires on Nature. All that is said of Mahabharata is true of Integral Yoga. Only that there the unyielding limitations of human nature were vindicated whereas here the fact of slow yielding of human nature to the touch of the descending Supramental Force in the shape of Mother's Consciousness is seen. It is possible to write a work like Mahabharata illustrating the principles of Integral Yoga from every human angle, all pointing towards the Supramentalisation and the unavailing nature of human characteristics. MOTHER is the central figure of the Ashram and in its life SHE has gathered every human trait. The story of THE MOTHER as SHE has lived with the Ashramites is such a one. On a lesser scale the life and work of everyone who lives in HER would be a major subplot of such a whole.

Notes on Mahabharata

1. Vyasa: the great grandson of sage Vasistha and his wife Arundhati. Vasistha was born of Brahma's breath i.e. prana. Arundhati was born of Brahma's passion. When she was born her father and brothers looked at her with sexual attraction. Through her tapasya she sublimated sexuality, so humans are sexual only in adulthood. Arundhati represents the sublimation of primal sex energy into the institution of marriage i.e. civilisation. She is the first woman who took only one husband. Vasistha's son Sakti and 99 others were killed by an asura. Shakti had a son Parasura who killed 1000 asuras and then became a hermit. One day he wanted to cross a river and was ferried by a fisherwoman, Satyavati, who was very beautiful but smelled of fish. Prasura converted the smell into musk and seduced her. The child born was Vyasa and she again became a virgin. Vyasa is later called upon by his mother to procreate 3 times with Ambika and Ambalika and the servant maid, he refuses a fourth repetition on the grounds that an exception should never be made more than 3 times.

This progression shows the progressive sublimation of the sex energy from its primal state in Brahma (nature) into society and purity but the past karmic force expresses in a lapse of dissipation with Satyavati. In Vyasa even the vital attraction of the impulse is gone but still the act repeats 3 times out of physical necessity. This is the power of an act to repeat.

From this point on it is a greater karmic destiny which works itself out. The children of Dhristarashtra are subhuman, born of a lump of flesh cut into a 101 pieces and placed in pots. The children of Pandu are born of the gods to Kunti and Madri; they are vibhutis.

Vyasa is the author of the Mahabharata who wrote it before it happened. Actually his birth from Satyavati when Parasura converts her fish odor into musk is the cause of Santanu's fall and the end of the dynasty.

Satyavati: A king was hunting in the forest and has a seminal discharge at the sight of 2 animals mating. He tries to send the semen to his wife but it is swallowed by a fish which gives birth to a girl and a boy. The boy goes to live with the king, the girl, Satyavati, is raised by a fisherman.

Satyavati is born nobility, but the lowest impulse of nobility. Thus she ends up marrying a king, Santanu; but the source of her attractiveness corresponds with the king's excitement over the mating of animals. This very low origin is depicted by the fish and the odour of fish which she emanates.

Parasuram converts fish odour into musk. Musk is an animal smell used to stimulate mating in deer. It is to this that Santanu responds. Santanu marries a woman who has already conceived once for Parasura i.e. she is impure though her virginity is restored. The same repeats in Kunti who conceives Radheya but is married to Pandu as a virgin.

Satyavati's condition for marrying Santanu is that her children should rule, not Bhishma, resulting in Bhishma's renunciation. Her demand is abnormal and wrong. As a result her own children by Santanu are unable to conceive and she is forced to call on Bhishma to maintain the line. When he refuses, she calls her earlier son Vyasa.

When Vyasa comes to Ambika she is horrified at his appearance and closes her eyes. The child, Dhristarashtra, is born blind. The physical blindness symbolises a mental blindness to truth, right, dharma. Ghandari marries Dhristarashtra after much hesitation. She and her father were reluctant for the marriage due to the king's blindness. But the lure of his power as the greatest monarch in the land overcame their hesitations. In order to be no better than her husband, Ghandari puts on a blindfold. She becomes blind to the blindness, evil and falsehood of her husband. Her capacity to do so when she is otherwise so good and pure, the incarnation of a celestial woman like Kunti and Madri, issues from her inheritance which also gives rise to her evil brother Sakuni.

When Vyasa comes to Ambalika she turns pale and frigid with fear. The child Pandu is born white. Her affront to the rishi is repeated by forced to shrink from sex with his own wives due to the rishis curse, just as his mother shrank, and finally dies of that act.

When Vyasa again comes to Ambika, a servant maid is substituted in her place and the maid happily serves the rishi. Vidura is born with the wisdom of Vyasa, but due to the low origins of his mother he can only serve a subordinate place in the kingdom as councillor.


Due to past karma he is offered a heavenly marriage with a goddess on earth, so long as he doesn't cross her wishes. When Ganga goes to destroy their eighth child, Santanu's desire for an offspring and a descendent, a very powerful human urge for biological continuity, he loses Ganga and his heavenly delight; but gains a son, Bhishma.

Years later Santanu meets Satyavati and a still lower urge for vital gratification comes in conflict with his desire for an heir. Though he refuses Satyavati's demand that Bhishma abdicate his claim as heir, still he is sad and gloomy over his loss of Satyavati. This depression in him shows that he is conquered by the low attraction to a fisherwoman and musk, not a free and happy master of that desire. Thus his desire is fulfilled by Bhishma without his initiative.

This act of Santanu is the initiative that leads to the end of the Kaurava dynasty. The blood line of Santanu stops with Bhishma and the two sons by Satyavati, neither of whom have a child.

Santanu's passive weakness and indulgence is akin to Old Hamlet's and has similar results. Because of Old Hamlet's attachment to a weak, low, unfaithful woman, he is murdered and loses his throne. Because of his persistent protection of her even after his death, his son Hamlet also dies without becoming king and the entire royal family is destroyed.

Bhishma: His act of sacrifice and renunciation was heroic in type. But he placed his power of self-abnegation at the service of his father's lowest impulse and desire, and the results of his sacrifice are determined by Santanu's impulse. Also the renunciation was a violence against Bhishma's own nature, an excess.

Bhishma's role is that of the destroyer of the dynasty which ends with him. All his efforts to foster it come to no avail because his vibration is negative.

When he seeks wives for Satyavati's two sons, it ends in catastrophe. He robs Salva of Amba who dies unmarried. One of the sons dies before marriage and the other dies before conception of an heir. Bhishma's oath comes back to haunt himself and Satyavati when he must refuse the task of procreation to continue the line.

Bhishma also arranges Madri's marriage to Pandu. It is Pandu's attempt to sleep with Madri that results in his death.

Kunti: At her birth she is given to her uncle Kuntibhoga who is childless. The result is that she never bears a child of her husband.

She is the sister of Vasudeva, father of Krishna. When she invokes the power of the mantra she is ignorant of the consequences. Karna who is born to her is the incarnation of knowledge. Due to the social stigma of having a child born to her outside of wedlock, she puts the child away from her i.e. rejects and disowns knowledge. For the rest of his life Karna's true nature is rejected by others and he himself goes against it by his lie to Bhargava and slaying the sacred cow of knowledge.

Kunti abandons her first child out of social consciousness. It is no wonder that this act later becomes a great source of suffering to her when he returns to fight against his younger brothers and must kill or be killed by them. At least Kunti could have prayed to Surya for the right guidance instead of thinking only of her own reputation.

Karna: He is an incarnation of the higher spiritual knowledge, Surya, born to Kunti and rejected by her to avoid the social stigma of conception outside wedlock. She is pure enough to invoke knowledge, but not to retain (embody) it. Much of her later suffering issues from this source.

All his life Karna is rejected in this manner. Drona refuses to teach him because he is thought to be a charioteer, not a kshatriya. Bhargava curses him because he is a kshatriya, not a Brahmin. The Pandavas reject him because he is not a kshatriya.

Karna, knowledge, is unconscious of his own truth, his own origins, his own identity, his mother. The whole kshatriya society is equally unconscious of who he is. Knowledge has been subordinated in each case to social tradition i.e. dharma, therefore it is without its true place and power in the society. The highest power admitted is dharma, Yudishthira, not his elder brother truth, Karna.

Knowledge devoid of power tends to disintegrate into its opposite i.e. falsehood and evil. As with the poor brahmins of India, Karna rejected from his rightful place resorts to lying to Bhargava to gain the knowledge that leads to power i.e. in archery, and having obtained that power by deceit, he utilises it to slay the sacred cow of knowledge i.e. his own essential truth. This is the status and level of the world into which Karna is born.

Karna is highest knowledge subordinated to social values and cast out, rejected by she who ore it. He comes by this to be aligned with evil, Duryodhana, and becomes an instrument of evil designs. He has been humiliated by Drona, then by the Pandavas, and his glorious being should be stripped in the assembly, showing his unconscious attraction to the wife of his brothers, while he remains unmarried i.e. outside the society. It is he who proposes that Duryodhana visit the Pandavas in the forest to humiliate them with the result that he and Duryodhana are humiliated by the Gandharvas.

Draupadi: She is known as the purest of the 5 most chaste women of the Puranas. Though she has 5 husbands at a time she has been granted the born of being a virgin for each of them. She is a symbol of the fact that chastity is a psychological condition, not a physical one. In her previous births she was Maya Sita, created by Agni as an incarnation of Lakshmi who substituted for Sita when she was carried away by Ravana. In response to her penance Siva offered her a boon. 5 times she repeated a request for a husband, so she got 5 husbands. She was also Nalayani the wife of a hermit leper who was granted a period of 1000 years of sensuous enjoyment with him in return for her faithful selfless service. When she asked for more, he cursed her to have 5 husbands in her next birth to satisfy her lust. Siva, in response to her penance, promised her perpetual virginity and husbands of very noble origins and character. She was born Pancali out of a fire, Agni, in response to Draupada's yagna for a son to kill Drona, i.e. Dhristyadyumma.

Draupadi is one with a lower nature full of lust and a higher one of great purity and austerity. Hers is an example of a great truth of life, the evolution often proceeds from the strength of extreme opposites rather than in a stepwise direction upwards. It is her extreme lustfulness and the consequences of it that release in her the aspiration for purity. By putting all her weight on the higher side, she attains the highest states of purity.

Once Draupadi reveals to Krishna her secret attraction to Radheya, the only one of the sons of Kunti she does not enjoy--though she is unaware who Radheya really is. It is Radheya, who is also unaware of his origins, who suggests that Draupadi be stripped in front of the assembly. His attraction for her was matched by hers for him. So great was her lust that only the act of being stripped naked before the audience could satisfy it. She clung to her clothes and prayed to Krishna but he did not answer. Only when she lifted her hands in utter surrender without even trying to protect herself, Krishna answered her prayer with the unending piece of cloth. The Divine answers only when one surrenders completed and we have renounced faith in our own capacities. This occurred during her monthly period, the time of greatest impurity.

It is Draupadi who laughs at Duryodhana when he falls in the pool of water and bumps his head during his visit to Indraprastha. Her mean humiliation of him is the sanction for her humiliation before the council and the key event which leads to the Great War.

Additional Notes:

Santanu: wanted both the pleasure of woman (Ganga) and the power of perpetuation of kingdom in a son. When Ganga is with him the need for a son is so great he sacrifices his pleasure. When Devadatta is with him the drive for a woman reasserts. Ganga and Santanu met and desired each other in heaven and were sent to earth to live it out.

After Devadatta is a prince again the desire for woman assets, and Santanu meets Satyavati, a fisherman's daughter. He refuses to sacrifice his son for his desire but his grief is evident to his son. Satyavati's father says he can have her only if her sons are the heirs. [This is fulfilled only in token, the princes die young and Bheeshma rules].

Though Santanu doesn't act on his desire this time, emotionally he is fully committed to the woman and he gets her. With Bheeshma's oath and death of Santanu's children, Santanu is left without an heir as king. His line ends.

His older brother Devapi renounced the throne to live in the woods. The movement continues when Bhishma renounces it. Pandu goes to the forest renouncing power. Yudhisthira also gives up his kingdom and goes to the forest. Devapi turned to sannyas when he was denied the throne due to skin disease. Bheeshma was denied offspring. Pandu was denied even the sex act.

Bheeshma: He takes the oath of brahmacharya to please his father. It is a violent act of will without full consent of his being. Because of it he gains all the power of his father which Santanu loses by his weakness. But also his heart becomes hard and dry. He is a great warrior no one can kill but he finds life too long and empty. He becomes old at once.

With this hardness he fails to help the Pandavas get justice and he ends up fighting on the side of the Kauravas. Still his self-renunciation gives him a great power which is only overcome by the rebellion of his heart. His heart finally dominates his will and he agrees to die.

Bheeshma was previously Dyo, the Vasu, who stole Vasishtha's cow to please his wife and was cursed. and his next life, he renounces marriage i.e. wife, to please his father.

Overview of Mahabharata

The Vedas were a revelatory vision of man's spiritual interchange with the Gods and his upward ascent to higher worlds with the aid of the divine powers of the subtle planes. The medium was mantric verse with the power to involve the higher forces on the inner planes. The exoteric interpretation of the Vedas showed the normal man how to maintain a harmonious relationship with these higher powers for his own material prosperity and contentment.

In the Mahabharata the same vision has been taken to the plane of life and expressed in that context. The medium is narrative poetry rather than mantra. The narration depicts in story rather than symbol the intercourse between the human and divine powers and the thousand and one varieties of relationship between them.

The main theme of the Mahabharata as of the Veda is this complex interrelationship between man and Gods which is the foundation of India's social teachings. As in the Vedas this relationship is the basis for a material as well as a spiritual achievement. All nature is shown as an evolving continuum from the highest spiritual aspiration to the lowest impulse to evil, money, fame.

Each character and incident reveals one thread of this complex fabric, one law or principle of Karna and evolution. There is no aspect of human life left untouched.

From this array Arjuna stands out as the example of man's highest relationship with the highest divine power, Krishna. He alone comes to renounce all worldly aims and dharmas and turn in total faith and living surrender to Krishna as his refuge. Even Yudhisthira clings to his dharma and refuses several suggestions by Krishna to rise above them. Duryodhana too worships Krishna, but values only his power as a King of a great army and seeks from the Lord only conquest and fame.

Man wins the support of the higher powers by clinging to dharma and righteousness, and by ascetic tapasya of purity, devotion, concentration, self-control.

Savitri takes up the same theme as the Veda and the Mahabharata but recasts it in a modern language and imagery. The hierarchy of beings is represented by the World Stair and man's intercourse with them by the adventures of Aswapathy and Savitri.