Thoughts, Words and Action: Insights from Mahabharata and Gita Excerpts from Anushasana Parva

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The Mahabaharata is rich with insights on all aspects of human endeavor and there is something for everyone in it. Wonderful stories for children, inspiring messages for the youth and sharp insights for leaders.

If you are an aspiring leader or already doing work in your societal circles, the Shanti and Anushasana Parvas have amazing insights on what to do and what not to get entangled in. These parvas are actually conversations between Yudhishthira and Bhishma when the latter is lying on the bed of arrows. Every question is eternally relevant and the responses could be adapted to contemporary times. The short and insightful stories that Bhishma narrates to illustrate his points are spot on!

Yudhishthira poses this question “What should a man do to have a pleasant life time and the journey ahead after life. What practices should one adopt with this goal in mind?”

File:Bhisma on arrows bed.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Here are some invaluable advices that Bhishma gave:

He says avoid the 3 acts done with the body, 4 done with speech, 3 done with the mind and 10 actions! Curious to know what they are? Read on!

Acts of the Body:

Bhishma asks us to avoid

~ any harm or killing of other creatures,

~ appropriation of what belongs to other people

~ committing adultery.

The 17th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita beautifully illustrates what constitutes tapasya or austerity of the body:

देवद्विजगुरुप्राज्ञपूजनं शौचमार्जवम् |
ब्रह्मचर्यमहिंसा च शारीरं तप उच्यते || 17.14||

Worship of the divine, the brahmanas, the Guru, the wise, the one worthy of pooja done with with the observance of cleanliness, straightforwardness, focus on the path of the brahman (brahmacharya) and ahimsa are the austerities of the body.

Acts of Speech:

He asks to avoid 4 acts of speech:

~ Evil conversations and gossips

~ Harsh words

~ Publicising other people’s faults

~ Falsehood

अनुद्वेगकरं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रियहितं च यत् |
स्वाध्यायाभ्यसनं चैव वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते || 17. 15||

The Bhagavad Gita says that words that do not cause distress, truth, pleasant and beneficial and reciting the scriptures are considered to be the austerities of speech.

A recent area of research in Behavioural sciences talks of Positive and Negative Emotional Attractors (PEA and NEA). These are characterised by a. positive and negative emotional arousal b. harmonal arousal c. neurological activation. When we utter positive words, a positive emotion is aroused in the other person’s mind (and activation of parasympathetic system) and they become more open, calm and receive our words happily. When we utter negative words or are too objective then this causes a negative emotion to be aroused in the other person’s mind (activation of sympathetic system) and they might become closed, alarmed or distressed through invoking a stress response. Hence uttering words that are pleasing and beneficial is key to inter-personal relationship.

Acts of the Mind:

Bhishma says, these are the acts of the mind that one should avoid:

~ coveting other’s possessions

~ thinking of inflicting pain on others

~ disbelief in the scriptures

मन: प्रसाद: सौम्यत्वं मौनमात्मविनिग्रह: |
भावसंशुद्धिरित्येतत्तपो मानसमुच्यते || 17.16||

The Bhagavad Gita in turn says that happiness of the mind, pleasantness, silence, restraint and purity of purpose are considered to be the austerities of the mind.

These have been captured in the Ashtanga Hrudayam as well as 10 sinful (misaligned) acts;

हिंसास्तेयान्यान्यथाकाम-पैशुन्यं परूषानृतम्।
पापकर्मेति दशधा कायवाड्मानसैस्त्यजेत् ।।

Of the body: Himasa: Cruelty, Steya: Stealing, Anyatha Kamam: adultery

Of speech: Paisunya: Slandering, Parusha Vachana: Harsh words, Sambhinna Aalaapa: Dissension

of the mind: Vyapada: Hatred, Abhidhya: jealousy, drig viparyaya: misunderstanding

Cleansing ourselves of the Acts

The Shiva Purana has a formula for removing the impact of having committed the acts out of ignorance. This is called paapa or sin. It would be useful to understand what paapa (sin) is. When we lead our lives which is not in tune with the universal intelligence, we call it paapa. We may have to make course corrections through prayischita or experience the fruits of our actions. Let us say we kept on using planetary resources and polluting the planet. We, at some point in time, realise the folly and there are two ways to approach this a. take corrective action b. experience the harmful impacts but that would also impact other generations and hence this is never a good option.

To remove the paapa committed by the body, speech and mind the Shiva purana recommends Austerities, mantra japa and dhyana.  respectively. One could take up a pada yatra or a yatra to the Himalayas, a regular mantra japa schedule and setting aside some time for mouna and dhyana are ways of cleansing our system of those negative energies that accumulate.