Trust, distrust & collaboration
A Cat & mouse tale from the Mahabharat
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There was a large banyan tree in the midst of a vast forest. A wise mouse named Palita lived at the foot of the tree. Here also lived a cat named Lomasa on the branches of the tree. One day the cat was caught in a snare spread by a hunter named Parigha. When the cat, the enemy of the mouse, was caught in the net, the mouse, Palita, came out of the hole and moved about joyfully without any fear. It began to eat the flesh which the hunter had spread about there as a lure. While he was eating the meat, he saw a mongoose named Harita.The mongoose was getting ready to devour the mouse. The mouse saw also an owl named Chandrak sitting on a branch of the banyan tree. The mouse was greatly alarmed at the sight of his two enemies, the mongoose and the owl.

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Tit for Tat in the Mahabharat
There are very many examples of forgiveness in this epic. Yet there also are many cases of tit-for-tat, insult for insult and gift for gift, which the Mahabharat shows can lead to an endless cycle of retribution.

The King and Queen of Hastinapur, Shantanu and Satyavati, had two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Chitrangada soon died, so Vichitravirya was to be king. Vichitravirya was not effective as King, so his brother Bhishma made many decisions. Vichitravirya was unable to find a wife for himself, and it was left to Bhishma to find a wife for him. In years past, Kings of Hastinapur often found wives from among the princesses of Kashi, so Bhisma naturally thought to look there.

Meanwhile, the King of Kashi (Kasiraja) had organized a ceremony for his daughters, in which each daughter could select a husband from among the guests. The reputation of the the Kasiraja’s three daughters for their beauty and intelligence had spread widely. Kashiraja had invited many Kings and princes for the ceremony, but he did not invite Vichitravirya.  He told his minister, I will not invite Vichitravirya because his brother (Bhishma) and his father had angered me in the past. Bhishma had promised as a sacred vow to never marry and have children, perhaps forgetting that he had been engaged to marry Kasiraja’s sister. Bhishma took this vow of celibacy not to spite the Kashiraja but for other reasons. But the Kashiraja was very angry and would not invite Bhishma or his brother Vichitravirya to the ceremony.

The Kashiraja’s prime minister told him this tit-for-tat approach was unwise. Such tit-for-tat retaliation might anger Bhishma, who was a great warrior and even perpetuate a never ending fight. The minister said it is better to forgive and retain the friendship of Bhishma and his family. But Kashiraja held firm to his tit-for-tat, wanting to insult Vichitravirya.

Indeed, Bhishma was insulted that Vichitravirya was not invited and wanted revenge. An angry Bhishma rode into Kashi, crashing the ceremony. Bhishma looked at Kasiraja and said “From ancient times, our Kingdoms have been friendly. Princesses of Kashi have become queens of Hastinapur. But now you did not even invite the King of Hastinapur?” Bhishma said defiantly, “These three princesses will marry the King of Hastinapur and become King Vichitraviryan’s queens.” Bhishma addressed the Kashiraja and all the Kings and princes who were there as invited guests to this ceremony: “I challenge you to stop me!” Nobody could stop Bhishma. He took the three princesses from the palace.

But the eldest girl, Amba , confessed that she loved King Shalva and had already promised herself to him. Bhishma felt very sorry for her. So he decided to let her go. Bhishma sent Amba in a royal chariot to the Kingdom of King Shalva. But when Amba reached Shalva he refused to marry her, saying that he could not accept a girl who had been abducted. Amba felt crushed. She returned back to Hastinapur to tell Bhishma what happened. She insisted that since Bhishma had abducted her, he ought to marry her. Bhishma refused to marry her, due to his vow of celibacy.

Having gone to both Shalva and Bhishma and getting two refusals, Amba felt quite humiliated. She sought tit-for-tat,  revenge her humiliation. Amba looked for a warrior who would avenge her. All warriors were too afraid  of Bhishma, except Parashuram. Parashuram engaged Bhishma in a fight, but eventually also gave up. Amba vowed she would not eat or sleep until the Devas tell her how to kill Bhishma. In response,Amba gained a “boon” that she would be the cause of Bhishma’s death in her next life. 

Amba was reborn as another woman and later became a man, with the name Shikhandi. In the great battle at Kurukshetra, Shikhandi challenged Bhishma to a duel. Bhishma refused to fight. Arjun, who stood behind Shikhandi, shot hundreds of arrows at Bhishma.  This demonstrates the tragedy of long-lasting tit-for-tat retaliation.  Despite this, Bhishma, full of arrows, relates many spiritual truths on his dying bed. Likewise, Arjun, learns from Krishna great spiritual lessons during the battle (you can read in the Bhagavad Gita what Krisha taught ).

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Forgiveness in the Mahabharat
The Mahabharat has a great many examples of forgiveness, where a powerful person who could punish, decides to show kindness instead. Bhishma himself, when very young (and called Devavrata), to defend Hastinapur had taken Shalva prisoner, but later persuaded  the King of Hastinapur (Shantanu, Bhishma’s father) to free Shalva, saying friendship is better than hostility.  Likewise, Yudhishthir often shows forgiveness to his offenders.

“King Dhritarashatra’s advisor and brother Vidura explains the virtues of forgiveness: Addressing Dhritarashtra, Vidura said: There is one only defect in forgiving persons, and not another; that defect is that people take a forgiving person to be weak. That defect, however, should not be taken into consideration, for forgiveness is a great power. Forgiveness is a virtue of the weak, and an ornament of the strong. Forgiveness subdues (all) in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carries the sabre of forgiveness in his hand? Fire falling on the grassless ground is extinguished of itself. And unforgiving individual defiles himself with many enormities. Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness.” From The Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva Section XXXIII, Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Perhaps the most dramatic case of forgiveness was by Draupadi.  She had suffered great wrongs by several of the Kuruva brothers, but ended up forgiving. This forgiveness is preceded by a discussion with Yudhishtir, also wronged by the Kuruva brothers: Click here for the full story.

Golden Deer Teaches Forgiveness
Jataka Tale
Long ago the Bodhisattva was born as a particularly beautiful deer, with golden fur that sparkled like many-colored gems. His eyes were as blue as sapphires, and even his horns and hooves shone with the luster of precious stone.  He lived deep within the lush forest.

The Bodhisattva realized his dazzling appearance would make him desirable to men, who would capture and kill him and hang his beautiful hide on a wall. So, he remained in the thickest parts of the forest where humans rarely ventured. Because of his wisdom the other forest creatures came to respect him and considered him their King.  One day the Golden Deer heard the cries of a man, “Help, help, save me.”  The deer saw the man being carried away in the strong rapids of a rain-swollen river. The Golden Deer responded, and cried out in a human voice, “Do not fear!”

The deer entered the treacherous current, and bracing himself, he allowed the exhausted man to climb on his back.  He carried the man to the safety of the bank and warmed him with his fur. The man was beside himself with gratitude and wonder at the marvelous deer. “No one has ever done anything for me such as you have done today,” he said. “My life is yours. What can I do to repay you?” To this, the Golden Deer said, “All I ask is that you do not tell other humans about me.  If men knew of my existence, they would come to hunt me.” 

“I promise to keep this secret, for I owe you my life,” said the man. Then he bowed and began the journey back to his home. At that time, in that country, the Queen had extraordinary visions in her dreams that eventually became real. 

One night she dreamed of a brilliant Golden Deer that sparkled like jewels. The deer stood on a throne, surrounded by the royal family, and preached the dharma, or purpose of life, in a human voice.  The Queen awoke and went to her husband, the King, to tell him of this astonishing dream.  She said to him, “Go and find the deer and bring it to the court.”

The King, trusting his wife’s visions, agreed to find the deer.  He issued a proclamation to all of the hunters of his land:

“Whoever finds the shining, Golden Deer spotted with many colors and brings it to the King will receive a rich village and all its wealth.”

The man who had been rescued by the deer heard that proclamation and was greatly conflicted. He was still grateful to the deer, but he was also very poor, and he imagined himself struggling with poverty for the rest of his life. Now a life of plenty was in his grasp!  All he had to do was break his promise to the Golden Deer. He was pushed and pulled by feelings of gratitude against feelings of desire for riches. Eventually he told himself that as a wealthy man he could do the world a lot of good to make up for breaking his promise. Resolved, he went to the King and said, “I know where the Golden Deer is and I will take you to it.” The King was delighted.  He gathered a large body of soldiers and set out to find the deer. They traveled over rivers and through forests, and eventually came to where the unsuspecting Golden Deer was grazing. “Here he is, Your Majesty,” the man said, starting to point to the deer.  But at that instant, when he raised his arm to point, his hand fell from his arm.

However, the King had already seen the Golden Deer, which sparkled in the sun like a treasury of jewels. And the King was overcome with desire to obtain this beautiful creature. He fitted an arrow to his bow. The Golden Deer realized that he was surrounded by hunters.  Instead of trying to run, he approached the King and addressed him in a human voice, “Stop, mighty Prince! And please explain how you found me here?” The King, astonished, put down his bow and pointed to the rescued man.  The Golden Deer said with authority, “Truly, it is better to take a log out of a flood than to save an ungrateful person from it.” The King asked, “What do you mean by these words of blame?”

“I do not speak with the desire to blame, Your Majesty,” the deer said. “I spoke firmly to a wrong-doer to prevent him from doing wrong again. I speak these words because I rescued this man from danger, and now he brings danger to me.” The King turned to the rescued man. “Is this true?” he asked.  And the man, now filled with remorse, looked down at the ground and whispered, “Yes.” Now the King grew angry, and once again he fitted the arrow to his bow. “Why should this lowest of men live any longer?” he roared.

But the Golden Deer placed himself between the King and the rescued man. “Stop, Your Majesty!” he said. “Do not strike one who is already stricken.” The deer’s compassion moved and humbled the King. “Well said, holy being. If you forgive him, so will I.”

“I do forgive him,” said the Golden Deer.

And the King promised to give the man the rich reward he had been promised. Then the King brought the Golden Deer to the capital. The King invited the deer to stand on the throne and preach the dharma, just as the Queen had seen in her dream.

The Golden Deer spoke, “I believe all the moral laws can be summed this way: Give compassion to all creatures and be quick to forgive.  For compassion and forgiveness brings you freedom and peace within your soul and to the creatures and people to whom you give such gifts.”

Then the King praised the words of the Golden Deer, and he and his people took up the practice of giving compassion to all with their whole hearts. They learned to forgive and the people lived in freedom, joy and love for each other and all creatures of nature. The Golden Deer disappeared back into the forest, but birds and animals enjoyed safety and peace in that kingdom even to this day.

Resisting revenge
Titiksa is the capacity to endure all sorrows and sufferings without redress or revenge, being always free from anxiety or lament over them.” Adi Sankara

“Describing the fourth psychological qualification in a man of true spiritual stamina, Sankara gives a full and scientific definition of the quality of silent endurance which is glorified in all the religions of the world. Meek surrender and silent suffering are the watchwords in all religious disciples. This quality to endure and to suffer for a cause which has been accepted by the individual as the ideal and the perfect, finds a place in every great philosophy whether it is religious or secular.” Swami Chinmayananda, commenting on Adi Sankara’s description of “Titiksa.”

Forgiveness according to Jesus
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?’Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!’ ” Mathew 18:22, Berean Study Bible


“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:38-48 New International Version

The prodigal son