Before we move to the first chapter, here is a question for you.
Is desire evil?
Desire, as Buddha, as well as Krishna, say, is our biggest enemy. But have you watched the Hollywood film Wall Street (1987)?
The main character Gordon Gekko says, “Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
That was Gordon Gekko, and we would not go to that level of greed. Yet, he made sense in his statement that desire is part of our evolutionary programming and our effective strategy to prosper in life.
So, why would Buddha or Krishna call desire our biggest enemy? What is the delight of life without desire?
Let’s first listen to the story of Akbar-Birbal duo.
One day, Mugal Emperor Akbar, noticed a servant who was happily singing in his palace. Akbar asked him, “What makes you so happy?” to which the servant replied, “Your Majesty, I don’t have anything. I am happy with just a roof over my head and warm food for my stomach.”
Not satisfied with the answer, Akbar sought the advice of his wise advisor Birbal, who said, “Your Majesty, the servant has not passed the 99 Club.”
“What exactly is that?” Akbar inquired.
“Your Majesty, place ninety-nine gold coins in a bag and leave it at his doorstep. I will then explain what the 99 Club is.”
Akbar immediately ordered his people to do it. When the servant found and opened the bag, he first jumped with joy and began to count the coins. When he counted ninety-nine gold coins, he wondered, “There have to be a hundred coins. Where is the last one?” He looked everywhere but in vain. Finally, exhausted, he decided that he would work harder than ever to earn that last gold coin.
He started overworking. And he started complaining that he was not able to get that 100th gold coin. He was no more the same happy servant as he began comparing his life with others. “I have 99 gold coins, and that person has more than me,” he thought. Witnessing this drastic transformation, Akbar asked Birbal what he did to the happy servant.
“Your Majesty, he has now officially joined the 99 Club,” Birbal said,
Does this mean that aiming for one more gold coin is wrong?
No, not at all.
Let’s meet Kabir, a successful entrepreneur. He loves comfort in life and works hard for it by running his own company. He is rich but not multi-millionaire rich, and he knows it does not have to be that way. His lifestyle revolves around traveling the world, loving his wife, and sleeping peacefully at night. In short, he is the happiest man that I know of today.
“What’s your trick?” I once asked, to which he replied, “I know the thin line between ambition and greed.”
“What is that?”
“Purpose! Whatever I do, there is a noble purpose attached to it for everyone’s benefit, and I benefit too. I don’t look for ways to exploit anyone for my needs. That will only lead to my downfall.”
“Because of the imbalance! Imagine, we are given a pot filled with gold coins, some got a bigger pot, and some a smaller pot based on our skillsets. We are all satisfied with whatever we have. If I start stealing gold coins from some else’s smaller pot to fill my bigger pot, won’t it cause an imbalance in the ecosystem? That’s when the Mahabharata (war) starts.”
And Kurukshetra or Mahabharata war happened because of the imbalance in the ecosystem
King Dhritarashtra divided the country in two, giving the prosperous nation Hastinapur to his son Duryodhana and a barren land Khandavprastha to his nephew Yudhishthira. The Pandavas accepted their uncle’s offer, worked hard, and thrived by converting Khandavprastha to Indraprastha.
Seeing the progress of his cousins, the greedy Duryodhana, conspired to steal from the Pandavas. He was never happy with what he stole from the Pandavas. He had already taken away their kingdom, insulted Pandavas wife Draupadi in the court, and sent the Pandavas to the forest on exile. Yet, he wanted to steal more from the Pandavas. He could not understand, despite all these miseries, how Pandavas could remain so content with each other. And he wanted to steal that too. He was an envious man.
So, how is envy different from greed?
Let’s listen to Greek storyteller Aesop’s fable.
Once there were two brothers, one greedy and the other envious. Both aspired to be wealthy. So, they decided to please the Lord by offering their prayers.
One day, the Lord appeared in front of them and asked for their wishes with a condition, “Whatever the first one asks, the other will have double.”
Upon hearing this, the greedy brother abstained from asking first with a hope that his brother would sympathize with him. He wanted to receive a double of whatever his brother asked for. By this means, the envious brother had no opportunity of preferring his petition first, which he had aimed at.
So, without much hesitation, he asked for having one of his eyes pulled out, knowing that, of consequence, his brother would be deprived of both. Both the brothers returned with no fortune, but one being blind and the other with one-eye.
That is the nature of envy.
That was who Duryodhana was. Here is another story about Duryodhana’s destructive and envious nature.
When the Pandavas were in the jungle, they led a modest lifestyle. The envious Duryodhana enjoyed stories about Pandavas’ miseries from his spies. One day, he desired to flaunt his magnificence before the Pandavas.
On the pretext of hunting, he and his cohorts went near the spot where Pandavas were encamped. They partied, they made a loud noise, and they did everything to taunt the Pandavas. On a particular day, Duryodhana insulted a band of the Gandharvas tribe in the jungle. The angry Ghandarvas fought against Duryodhana, defeated him, and took him as a prisoner.
When the Pandavas found that Duryodhana had been taken as a prisoner, they fought the Gandharvas. The Pandavas won and compelled the Gandharvas to release the prisoners. Yudhishthira called Duryodhana his brother, and this approach surprised Duryodhana for a second, but he was humiliated. He almost killed himself, but for the hope that the day would come when the Pandavas would be avenged, he decided to return to Hastinapur.
He never learned from his mistakes. Instead, he became more envious of the Pandavas over the years and did everything to harm them at the cost of harming himself and his clan.
And that’s precisely how the Bhagavad Gita starts. It opens with an inquiry from Dhritarashtra asking his trusted secretary Sanjaya about the events unfolding at the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Through Sanjaya’s narration, readers are introduced to Duryodhana’s pride and ignorance as he spoke about the combined strength of his army and how his victory was inevitable. He says,
“Look at the mighty army of the Pandavas. They have heroic warriors and great archers. But look who we have on our side. These warriors on my side are distinguished, and they are willing to give up their lives for my sake. Our army is unlimited and commanded by Bhisma, the greatest warrior. Theirs is small and commanded by Bhima (Verses 1.3-1.11)”
Once the Bhagavad Gita establishes Duryodhana’s overly self-centered, overconfident, and envious character, it moves to the announcement of war. Verse 1.12 says, “The powerful Bhisma, to cheer Duryodhana, roared like a lion and blew his conch horn.” Once Bhisma blows his conch, Krishna and Arjuna do so, too. Simultaneously, others blow their conch, indicating that war is about to happen.
As all blow their conch, Arjuna suddenly asks Krishna to drive his chariot between the two armies in verse 1.20. This is when the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna starts. In our next blog, we will discuss Krishna’s role as a chariteer.
Please listen to our Gita podcast – in this Episode, we discuss Duryodhana’s Entitled Mindset in detail. “Man is not, by nature, deserving of all that he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, that is when we start walking all over others to get it.” ~Criss Jami
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“He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.”Buddha
Featured Picture Credit: Radfotosonn, Pixabay