India’s greatest gift to the world is perhaps Vedānta, the science of reality, which can be hailed as the crown-jewel among the various treasures that our unbroken tradition of over five thousand years has offered.
Public life is replete with seeming paradoxes. A person closely involved in the public space cannot be hassled by what other people think about him but if someone accuses him of a wrongdoing, he must be capable of clearing his name. After all, his reputation is one of his greatest assets. A classic example in the case of Krishna is the episode of the śyamantakamaṇi. Satrajit’s brother who had been wearing it was found dead. Krishna was accused of theft and murder by Satrajit. He declared that if he did not find the jewel within twenty-one days, he would not return to Dvaraka.
As individuals, we can be utterly honest and upright. But that will not work at the societal realm. A public figure will have to resort to strategies. We see Krishna’s brilliance and foresight throughout. Long before he befriended the Pandavas, he was laying out a strategy for change.
When Akrura comes to Gokula and invites Krishna to participate in the dhanuryāga, he takes leave of his foster-parents Yashoda and Nandagopa, and goes off with Akrura taking his brother Balarama with him. Even as the brothers enter the city of Mathura, they meet the royal washerman. Krishna and Balarama were honourable guests in Mathura but when they requested the washerman for a pair of clothes, he refused and abused them. Krishna immediately revolts. It didn’t matter who the other person was. They say that democracy needs eternal vigilance. We see that in Krishna’s life.
By the time Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judaea, by envious Jewish priests accusing him of treason and blasphemy, the Jewish high priest Joseph Caiaphas had already pronounced his death sentence. Jesus was produced before the governor only to get a formal administrative approval. They merely wanted Pilate to uphold the judgment of the Jewish high priest. That Jesus had to be awarded capital punishment was a foregone conclusion.
Fascinated by the Mahābhārata, Dr. S L Bhyrappa wrote the novel Parva in the 1970s, which narrated the human story of the epic, keeping aside the fantastical elements. In Parva, while referring to the character of Krishna, Vidura tells Dhritarashtra, “You’re completely mistaken about Krishna. He is such a person that even if the Pandavas die on the battlefield, he will make Kunti or Draupadi the queen and get them to rule the kingdom. He won’t give a damn to your wicked children!”
Krishna never stood for any individual; he stood for dharma.
Modern economic thought leans heavily on the extent of luxurious commodities that one uses while defining wealth and affluence. Sanātana-dharma, on the other hand, opines that one of the major indices of richness is the ‘judicious usage of resources.’ The great philosopher-seer Kauṭilya, author of the Arthaśāstra, while elucidating the principal focus of economics, stresses the need for disciplining both body and mind without giving in to inherent hedonistic appetites.
In the previous episodes, we discussed about Shiva being an ideal at the level of the individual and Rama being the family ideal. We will now look at the life of Krishna, the ideal at the social sphere.
In the Ayodhyakāṇḍa, we see that Rama knew his subjects well and cared about them. He would often meet them and learn of their joys and sorrows. If they were happy, he laughed with them and if they were sad, he wept with them. If Rama didn’t see someone on a given day, he would feel that he missed seeing such-and-such a person and the one who didn’t see Rama would feel that he missed the sight of Rama! Such was the mutual affection between Rama and his subjects. In sum, it was rare that Rama didn’t meet his subjects; if he failed to do so, it was only accidental!