Scripture and Idealism

Though one can ‘enquire the human condition’ from the Mahabharata’s point of view, it never going to reflect the reality of life, at least here in India. The Indian worldview is shaped by various thoughts, apart from the known authoritative scriptures of sruti and smrti.  However, the average Indian uses these thoughts either to explain away or justify his/her actions rather than to use them to set her/his course of life. Of course, this should not be treated as a sweeping generalization. This is my personal experience, and the observation of other’s life as well. Unless we allow the scripture to be the final authority to decide our action, every (valuable) thought coming from the scriptures or tradition will be ‘used’ to serve our purpose rather than guiding our life. But the Hindu dilemma always is: which is the scripture to which one should submit?

—db.  Gurukulam, December 8, 2007, 11.05 pm.


…Thus, one’s relationship with one’s self and with the other is the central concern of the Mbh. It is around this issue that every parable in it revolves, with which every discussion begins and ends, and it is in it that the philosophical and the political find their ultimate ethical ground.

The Mbh. shows that it is not until one’s relationship with one’s self is right that one’s relationship with the other can be right, and the two being inseparable, it is by achieving a right relationship with the other that one comes to one’s self, fulfilled. Disturbed in my relationship with myself, I will be disturbed in my relationship with everyone else. Therefore, self-understanding is an essential condition of understanding the other. The two are inseparable.

But what is the right ordering of one’s life and relationships? What criteria will determine what a ‘right relationship’ is? And who will decide what those criteria are? How are these questions to be answered without either taking them into the bottomless pit of philosophic abstractions or dispersing them into empty moralizing? The Mbh. shows that the answers lie in the rhythms of man’s own being. Any view of the ordering of life and relationships, if it is to have a universal meaning, must be derived from life itself, from the rhythms of life, and not be something in which the proof of what you want to prove is already provided. Hence, the method it follows is inherent in life itself; it is not an artificial construct of the mind.  This puts the Mbh. above every school of philosophical and political theory.  In this respect, as in many others, the Mbh. stands distinctly apart from all systems of philosophy….

Chaturvedi Badrinath, The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the human condition, New Delhi, Orient Longman, 2007, p.12


One must agree that ‘deriving from life itself’ the Mbh. is unlike other scriptures and literatures that do not provide any proof for one to prove about ‘ordering of life and relationships’. But once it is written, the Mbh. also falls in the same trap of ‘providing the proof’ through its characters’ life. Not only this, the Mbh. also never derives any of its ‘life oriented proof’ on its own without referring to the previous ‘bottomless pit of philosophic abstractions’.

Badrinath claims that the ‘method it follows is inherent in life itself’ and ‘not an artificial construct of mind’.  Yet it is the construct of the mind of the author(s), who used either imaginary characters or historical persons, to present his own view through compiling various writings as one book. Above all, the Mbh. is not a single book authored by a single author, but an encyclopedia which grew from its original writing by various interpolations.

Anyone who wants to share his/her view will find a place to insert into the Mbh., as it has been a carrier as a literature. I feel that instead of claiming that the Mbh. ‘stands distinctly apart from all systems of philosophy’, we could safely say that anyone (like Badrinath) can read any kind of exclusive teaching from Mbh., other than any kind of ‘philosophy and political theory’. The Mbh. also serves their purpose of extraction as it allowed for interpolation. Keeping the fact of ‘change and continuity’ of Indian worldviews, the ‘philosophy and political theory’ of Mbh. is a different in degree and not in kind.

Here I am giving below some comments from the scholars, who endorse my view. Though this is long, if you read all the following points, you will understand my view from the scholar’s perspective more clearly than giving a summary of them.

Dayanand, Gurukulam, December 9, 2007.


...Scholars should always be careful and cautious, particularly in dealing with the Mahaabhaarata, because it is a vast work and because there are several recessions of it.--P.V. Kane. History of Dharmasaastra, Vol.I. Part.I. 14, The Arthasaastra of Kautilya. p.217.
...In the last parvan it claims that whatever is said in it would be found elsewhere and what is not contained in it would not be found anywhere else i.e. it claims to be encyclopaedic and hence there was a great incentive to later scholars to add to it fresh matter...It further states [Aadi.1.52] that different beginnings of the epic existed....—ibid. Vol.I, Part.I, 32. The Two Epics, p. 350.
…There was, therefore, great scope at all times for adding stories and didactic matters.  Thus the Mahabharata became very much inflated by additions made at different times.  Anyone could add a story by saying 'atraapyudaaharantiimam itihaasam puraatanam'.  In the Anusasanaparvan alone in 25 chapters stories are introduced with these words, apart from several stories introduced in a different manner....—ibid. Vol. I. Part. I. 32. The Two Epics. p.362)
On the whole, the traditional view has gained strength through the failure of modern criticism regarding the origin and development of theMahabharata.  Thus, many scholars today accept the view that the Mahabharata underwent two major recensions: it began as Jaaya, a poem about the victory of the Pandavas over the Kauravas, of about 7000 slokas.  This is supposed to have been the work of Vyasa ....It was augmented to about three times its former length in the Bharata by Vaisampayana, who recited it at the snake sacrifice of Janamejaya.  TheSuta, who heard it there, related it as Mahabharata of 100,000 verses to the assembly of sages in the Naimisa forest during the sacrifice performed by Saunaka.

The present edition of the Mahabharata itself speaks of three beginnings: manvaadi, beginning from Manu, corresponding to the first twelve parvans ("chapters") of the present work; aastikaadi, beginning with Astika, comprising parvans 13 to 53; uparicaraadi, from parvan 54 onward.-- Klaus K. Klostermaier, A SURVEY OF HINDUISM, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi,1990, p.76
…any discussion about dharm is always trouble some.  There is always trouble in dharm.  Then how to decide which is dharm and which isadharm?  Mahabharata fail to give any kind of answer to this question…. Mahabharata story is presented as the purvapaksha in SrimadBhagavata.  There Vyas says that by composing Mahabharata he didn’t receive peace….Just think why Srimadbhagavad made Mahabharataas purvapaksha?  It was told through Narad, ‘O Vyas you have done a mistake by discussing about dharma  but you should have discussed about rasa and bhakti.  Srimadbhagavat told like this.—Prof. Daya Krishna, Bhakti: A Contemporary Discussion (Philosophical Explorations In the Indian Bhakti Tradition), Edited by Daya Krishna, Mukund Lath & Francine E. Krishna, Indian Council of Philosophical Research 2000, New Delhi, 2000, p. 247
In accord with its own syncretistic nature and the general propensity of Indian sages and mythographers to appeal to a multivalent range of ideas in treating almost every doctrinal topic, the Mahabharata recognizes a number of different causal factors at work in arranging both immediate results and ultimate destinies….— J. Bruce Long, The Concepts of Human Action and Rebirth in the Mahaabhaarata,  in Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty , Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, (1983) Reprint 1999, p.40
 …like their Vedic forebears, the epic writers were prepared to embrace (or, at least, to tolerate) a diverse array of doctrines, in the conviction that while reality is one, it can be designated by many names (Rg Veda 1.164.46).— J. Bruce Long, The Concepts of Human Action and Rebirth in the Mahaabhaarata,  in ibid. p. 42
…Thus the ‘orthodox’ religions of later times claim to be the continuation of the Veda or even represent themselves to be the Vedic past unchanged or purified and adapted to the needs of ensuing generations.  The ‘redactor’ of the Veda is considered to have compiled also the post-Vedic, early ‘Hinduist’, Mahabharata, that Encyclopaedia of Hinduism which is styled the fifth Veda beside the four ancient corpora. [caturo vedaan sarvaan aakhyaanapancamaan, mss. Of the Mbh. 3,55,8 cr. ed.] “The man who recites this Mahabharata should be regarded as skilled in the Vedas” [1,56,26, cr. ed.]….. — J. Gonda, Change and Continuity in Indian Religion, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, (1965) 1985, p.10
…The Brahmanas [Brahmins], who were the custodians of literature, utilized the epics, as they became popular, for propagation of their culture and religion.  So, many religious and ceremonial elements which did not originally belong to it, entered the huge body of theMahabharata and it became a reference book for the Hindu religion.  The Mahabharata was regarded as a Samhita as early as before the fifth century A.D. [Buhler and Kirste, contrib. To the history of the Mahabharata.  Siteungsher wien, 1892. 4-27]….— Rajbali Pandey, Hindu Samskaras:  Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, (Second Revised Edition, 1969), Reprint, 1987 p.9