By the time of the Mahābhārata, it seems that several people had given up worldly life and had taken up saṃnyāsa; they practiced abstinence and lived on roots and fruits in āśramas (hermitage) that they constructed in the wild. It was common for the kings to take up the lifestyle of a muni (sage, ascetic) during old age. Saṃnyāsa is the fourth āśrama (stage of life).
Bhīṣma, Yudhiṣṭhira, and Kṛṣṇa have been portrayed as the noble characters in the Mahābhārata. Among these, Yudhiṣṭhira looks upon Kṛṣṇa as an elder brother and a guide to their family; and as for Bhīṣma, he looks at Kṛṣṇa as a devata. Therefore, in the poet’s vision, in the whole of the Mahābhārata, Kṛṣṇa is the noblest of them all, and the most worthy of worship. It is not surprising that fantastic tales have been weaved around his character. As mentioned earlier, his influence is the strongest in the epic.
According to the Gītā, dedicating every activity to the all-pervading brahman or working with divine inspiration is called ‘arcana’ (roughly translated as ‘worship’ or ‘praise’). The means of this worship is sva-karma, i.e., activity attuned to the temperament (sva-dharma) of the individual. Only this kind of worship leads an individual to perfection.
येन सर्वमिदं ततम्।
सिद्धिं विन्दति मानवः ॥
We have seen earlier that prakṛti undergoes metamorphosis due to the loss of equilibrium of the three guṇas (sattva, rajas, and tamas) and this instability is instigated by the puruṣa – this cause sentient creation. Prakṛti can only be under the influence of either the puruṣa or īśvara. This īśvara-saṅkalpa (the ordinance of the Supreme Being) is destiny.
The word ‘yoga’ has several meanings. In the Bhagavad-Gītā (2.48,50; 5.1,5,7), yoga is used in the sense of karma (activity) or karma-yoga (activity without selfish motives, work without expectations).
Philosophy in the Mahābhārata : Sāṅkhya
Half of the extant Mahābhārata is dedicated to dharma and ethics. In the other half, the main story and the upākhyānas are present. Even if we consider the latter alone, without doubt, it qualifies for a matchless poem.
Dharma and Nīti (ethics) in the Mahābhārata