As most of you probably know the Bhagavat Gita is part of the Mahabharata, the oldest epic known to humanity, older than the Bible or the Greek myths and vaster than all of Shakespeare’s work. When I studied the Bhagavat Gita in TTC I wondered what happened to Arjuna and the Pandava brothers after the war. At the end of the Bhagavat Gita Arjuna, after taking to heart Krishna’s teachings, is able to get over his despondency and engage in right action (dharma) free of all attachment, knowing that victory and defeat are the same and that this kind of action is the way to escape the wheel of birth and death.
Back to the main story in the Mahabharata, Vyasa tells us that after the war everything was destroyed, foes and friends alike. The Pandavas leave the scene of destruction and horror and head North, to Heaven. But on their way they fall, one by one, into the abyss with the exception of Yudishthira. He is the oldest brother, the righteous one, and has been accompanied in his wanderings by an old dog. At one point Yudishthira hears a voice that announces to him, ‘You have arrived at the gate to paradise. You can enter but you must leave the dog behind. Paradise is not open to dogs’. Dogs even today in the East are considered dirty and the lowest of animals. Yudishthira thinks about it but finally he says ‘I can’t. This dog has been faithful to me and I cannot leave him behind’. This was the right path to follow as the voice tells him that the dog is in fact his father and that he has passed this test.
Once in paradise Yudishthira meets the Kauravas, the cousins against whom he has fought the war together with Arjuna and his brothers. The Kauravas taunt him and tell him that his brothers are all in hell. Yudishthira then decides to stay with his family and go to hell as well. The voice again says, ‘This was the final illusion. You have known paradise and hell but here there is no paradise, no hell, no punishment, no enemies, no friends, no happiness, no suffering. Rise in tranquility! Here words end. Here thought end’.
And here ends the Mahabharata too. The message of the Bhagavat Gita again is repeated. Renunciation is not enough. We must act but our action should be compassionate and yet free of attachment to gain or loss, victory or defeat. This is the challenge presented in this great epic which is as relevant to mankind today as it was in Bharata thousands of years ago.