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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Mahabharata and Cause and Effect (1)

Krishna and Arjuna at Kurukshetra via Wikipedia

I am not so ambitious as to want to discuss Mahabharata or Indian philosophy or something like that. Coming in contact with (although by no means actually knowing) ... this, eh, massive thing ... is another reminder how humans try to understand their existence and their relationships with each other for thousands of years.

Some of it got me thinking about cause and effect. I don't know enough about Hinduism to know what they actually think about this --- and signs suggest that different schools have their own interpretations. It seems to me that it is at least suggested that cause and effect is an illusion, or maybe it doesn't matter. In Mahabharata it often goes like this: Someone feels slighted or insulted and says a curse or makes a vow, something like "So-and-so has wronged me and I wish to eventually cut off his head." He or she may not be able to carry out this curse (otherwise they'd do it rather than just use words), but a series of events occur and the enemy is eventually slain, likely on the final battlefield of Kurukshetra. Or it could go like this: Someone strongly desires something and has to have it (eg, a son and heir to the throne). After much praying to one or several gods, the wish is granted, but things turn out to be not so peachy after all. The hero Bhisma wants to protect the legacy of his father's dynasty and does everything he can to achieve that, only to bring about the destruction of Hastinapura through intra-familial war.

Before the battle at Kurukshetra commences, the main hero Arjuna pauses in the face of a future of massive deaths of his relatives and friends, many at his own hands. His friend and guidance counselor Lord Krishna says, Don't worry about it. Just do your duty as a warrior. Don't think about outcomes. (There is of course a lot more philosophical digression in the famous Bhagavad Gita, but I have not got that far.) One could argue that Krishna is trying to justify war and killing, but it's not that simple. It seems relevant to everything we set out to do.

The fact is that some, much, perhaps most of our actions are intended for a future outcome. We do this and that in the hope of bringing about a future outcome or consequence. We work today to get paid next week or next month, with the faith that we will get paid eventually. We learned to believe in the future through agriculture at least --- planting seeds today and hoping for a harvest a few months down the road. Our mind makes a connection between events separated by a stretch of time, ie, cause and effect.

Some things are reliably connected, despite the separation of time. And then there are things for which the connections are not as clear or definite. Arjuna says, Look, there is my grandsire Bhisma on the other side. He has loved me and raised me, and I will cause his death. Krishna replies, Why grieve for his death? Everyone who's been born dies. It's the inevitable fate. So Bhisma is going to die regardless of whether Arjuna causes it or not. 

OK, I know this argument can be easily abused for murder, etc., but still, it is a worthwhile mental exercise and relevant to things we do every day. Hey, even eating meat may be a cause of killing and slaughters, and sitting in an air-conditioned room or driving a car may be a cause of more killing. If we really want to dig into it, this won't be a pretty picture. 

I don't know what one can do with this thought. It is NOT a manifesto to become vegetarian or renounce automobiles, that's for sure. Maybe nothing. Maybe it doesn't make anyone feel better or change anything. But still. Something to think about. 


Eugene Xia said...

Ah, Bhagavad Gita, my favorite and very Wagnerian:

Do your duty and renounce the fruits of your endeavor. The result is not your concerned.


Eugene Xia said...

Ah Bhagavad Gita, my favorite and very Wagnerian:

Do your duty and the rest is not your concern.

This can be dangerous though if taken in the wrong context.

Jun Yan said...

Exactly. The advice can be used to do good or evil and does not discriminate between the two. I will write about this in the next post.

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