Wisdom From the Great Indian Epics

At Sri Chinmoy Inspiration, we occasionally do posts highlighting the timeless wisdom that has come from all the various world cultures – see for examples Tejvan’s Wisdom from the Zen Haiku Masters. My meditation teacher, Sri Chinmoy, came from an Indian background and he would often write short retellings of traditional Indian tales. I happen to have been reading a lot of traditional Indian stories recently – many of them come from the two great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, India’s answer to the Iliad and the Odyssey.

These epics play an important role in the Hindu tradition, but there are a lot of truths in them which are timeless in nature, and I just thought I’d select four or five of them for today’s post.

Focus only on the important things.

This is a very nice story from the Mahabharata:

Drona was a great teacher of the warrior arts, and one day he held a test to find his best archery student. He put a wooden bird on a branch of a distant tree, partly hidden by the foliage, and painted an artificial eye on the wooden bird. The teacher called all his disciples and said, “You have to hit the arrow exactly in its eye. Are you ready?”

Everyone nodded. First the eldest Yudhisthira was invited to try his skill. He stretched his bow-string and was about to release the arrow. Drona asked, “What is visible to you at this point of time?” Yudhisthira replied, “You, the tree, people around me, and the bird.”

“Step aside”, said Drona.

Similar questions were put to his other students and Drona got the similar answers as those given by Yudhisthira. Lastly, it was the turn of Arjuna, who readied himself to shoot. Drona asked him, “What is being observed by you?”

And Arjuna replied, “Sir, at this point of time only the eye of the bird is visible to me.”

“Anything else?”, Drona asked

“No, only the bird”, replied Arjuna.

Drona smiled and said “You may shoot.” Arjuna shot and hit the bird perfectly in the eye.

This story has a particular resonance for me, because one of my weaknesses is letting myself get sidetracked from the things that really matter. However I have found over the years that by cutting out the superflous things in my life and focusing on the things that really matter, then I can make enormous strides towards fulfilling my dreams.

All paths lead to the same goal

One of the people most responsible for bringing Eastern mystical thought to the West was Swami Vivekananda. In 1893 he travelled to Chicago to the World Parliament of Religions and gave a speech that captivated all present, in which he appealed for an end to religious fanaticism and spoke about the need for oneness between all paths : “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true…The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.” ” The Gita is a section of the Mahabharata which many Indians would regard as their Bible. This feeling, that all of humanity is merely taking different roads up the same mountain of self-discovery, is a cornerstone of Indian thought. (By the way, the full speech can be read here…)

It’s all about perspective

One of my favourite Indian stories is a very simple one, related by the 19th century Indian master Sri Ramakrishna:

Shiva sits in silent meditation on a snowy Himalayan mountain top. Suddenly there is a great sound. Nandi, Shiva’s bull, gets alarmed and asks, ‘Where is the sound coming from?’

Shiva says, ‘Ravana is born.’

After a while there is another frightening sound. Nandi asks, ‘Now, what is this sound?’

Shiva laughs and says, ‘Ravana has now been slain.’

Ravana was the chief antagonist of the Ramayana, whose actions and ultimate demise takes up a huge portion of the Ramayana epic. And yet from the perspective of endless time, Shiva perceived his life and death as merely another ebb and flow in the vast ocean of time. We often blow events out of proportion – for example all our thinking is devoted to how to pay that bill, or how someone has hurt our feelings. However, when we can lift our mind out of these troughts, we gain a higher perspective and see these are all transient events that should not affect our inner calm.

Listen to your heart

One of the great lessons of the Mahabharata, is to trust your heart, and learn to act on your inner feelings of right and wrong. In the Mahabharata, a great conflict arises because many of the noble and well meaning characters hide behind the moral code of the time, instead of doing what they inwardly know is right. For example, one of the main characters, Bishma, takes a mighty oath at the beginning of the Mahabharata to protect the throne of his kingdom. The morality of the time stated that a warrior like Bishma could never go back on his oath – and so he stayed quiet whilst all manner of wrongdoing was perpetuated by the kingdom he swore to protect, and suffered greatly at the hands of his conscience for doing so. When you listen to your heart, you are essentially tapping into a source of great goodness inside yourself, and are intuitively able to take decisions with everyone’s best interests at heart.

Photo: Unmesh Swanson, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries

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