The Mahabharat is an ancient Indian epic. The story has Arjun as the protagonist and Krishna as his companion. Incidences from Arjun’s life teach us 12 valuable lessons as follows:
- Start Early
Arjun, since his early days in Gurukul, identified his interest in Archery. Of all the weapons available, he chose to go with his ‘first love’ – the bow and the arrow as his primary weapons.
We all need to identify our interests sooner than later. Identifying an interest helps channelize energies towards learning, exploring and experimenting. These convert interests into passions and become the stepping stone towards mastery.
2. Exhibit Focus and Courage
Having realized his passion for archery, Arjun showed high levels of focus. One day, Guru Drona tested the shooting skills of all his pupil by placing a wooden bird on a tree. Of all the warrior princes taking the test, Arjun & Arjun alone could see nothing but the eye of the bird – the ‘bull’s eye’ so to say – thereby exhibiting focus. In another instance, Guru Drona was attacked by a Crocodile. While his mates ran amok for help, Arjun was the only one who attacked the Crocodile with his arrows – thus exhibiting courage. The crocodile was nothing but a ruse used by Guru Drona to test the reaction of his pupil.
Focus keeps the unnecessary away and makes things easy & courage drives action which drives results. Focus helps us keep our eye on the target and courage fuels us in the direction towards the target. Also, when we exhibit focus and courage at the right time, we get noticed by the right people.
3. Get a Guru
Arjun’s focus and courage impressed Guru Drona. These qualities in Arjun got him special attention from his Guru who took keen interest in developing his skills as an archer. Guru Drona took it upon himself to train Arjun to be the finest archer the world has ever seen. Not only did he develop Arjun, he also killed Arjun’s competition at an early stage – having noticed Eklavya as a potential threat to Arjun’s supremacy, Guru Drona asked Eklavya to cut off his right thumb, thereby incapacitating Eklavya permanently.
Finding a Guru is a competitive advantage and the sooner we find one, the better. We need to exhibit the right qualities to get noticed by a Guru, who would then ensure we move ahead in the right direction and would help us hone our skills. Not just ensuring you get the right skills, a great Guru would also ensure you constantly upgrade. Your Guru would be your sounding board and a source of motivation.
4. Embrace Realities
Arjun and his brothers (together known as the Pandavs) never had good relations with their cousins (the Kauravs). The Pandavs demonstrated patience, righteousness and a firm resolve to sort issues amicably under the leadership of Yudhishthir (eldest of the Pandav brothers and known for this honesty) but the Kauravs showed no signs of reciprocation and left no stone unturned to make the Pandav brother’s life miserable. Being the finest archer and a prince, Arjun was subject to insult, injustice and deceit. Arjun never questioned the leadership of Yudhishthir who lost their kingdom in gamble and the brothers had to face exile and anonymity. Arjun took of all this in his stride and embraced cruel realities of life.
Life isn’t all easy and fair, even you’re Arjun! The sooner we realize this, the quicker we’re able to plan ahead. There are and will be times when our capabilities and skills won’t help us. Circumstances tend to get the better of us at some point in time or the other. It’s critical to approach things that aren’t under our control in three steps: accept and assess the situation, assess our own strengths & weaknesses and lastly, plan and work towards getting our way.
5. Upgrade Skills
Arjun realized that the differences with Kauravs would only result in a war. Neither would Kauravs give in nor could the Pandavs live all their lives in exile. Having experienced and lived with the bitter realities of life for years, Arjun decided to make the most of the years in exile to upgrade his skills as an archer. He knew the war with Kaurav’s would be a tough one, with many a mighty warriors on their side, though only a handful could stand a chance in front of an archer like Arjun. Arjun, the finest archer who had now mastered all the skills of archery known to mortals, now set out on his quest for divine weapons – spending months in meditation to please the Gods! Arjun’s mediation bore fruit with Shiva and other Gods blessing Arjun with their special divine weapons. Arjun did not stop at that. He visited his God father Indra in heaven to get more divine weapons and trained further on their use. Indra asked Arjun to fight and eliminate demons as a fee for this training.
Even the finest need to constantly upgrade. Howsoever good we may be at what we do or know, we need to be cognizant of the bigger challenges that lie ahead and prepare to overcome them. Not only does this preparation take a lot of time, effort and sweat, it also comes at a price. The price of losing sleep, sacrificing our comfort zones and more often than not, giving something in return. In some cases being prepared also comes at the price of living with uncomfortable situations.
6. Exploit Situations
While in heaven, Indra asked Arjun to learn music and dance from the celestial artists, which he did. During his stay, a celestial nymph called Urvashi fell for Arjun’s looks and he rejected her advances. Urvashi took the rejection as an insult and cursed him to lose his manhood. Indra later reduced the duration of the curse from a lifetime to a year. Pandav’s last year in exile was spent in the kingdom of Viraat and each of the brothers assumed a guise. This is where Arjun implemented Urvashi’s curse and turned into a eunuch called Brihannala. He used his music and dance skills to train the princess of Viraat. That’s how Arjun used Urvashi’s curse and the music he learnt in heaven to his advantage. The Kaurav’s suspected the presence of Pandav’s in Viraat and waged war on Viraat. Uttar, the Viraat prince decides to take on the attack and Brihannala volunteered to be his charioteer. Noticing the might of the Kaurav army, Uttar decides to flee and that’s when Brihannala revels his real identity. Arjun then swaps position with Uttar and singlehandedly compels the Kaurav army to retreat – thus giving this foes a taste of his fierce arrows!
Life will land us in situations that we never anticipate or plan for. We head towards a specific plan and end up, whilst chasing our goals, in peculiar and undesirable situations. First, we need to exhibit high levels of flexibility to address the demands of such situations. Without being flexible, we might end up converting a mole into a mountain. And second, we should strive to convert such situations to our advantage. If we do not salvage the situation and do not get something out of it, we end up being slaves. Getting into undesirable situations, when not everything is in our control is normal but making the most of such situations is something extraordinary.
7. Forge Alliances
A friendship based on mutual respect and affection with Krishna was the most important alliance for Arjun. Krishna played an important role in Arjun’s life by guiding and mentoring the Pandav’s through thick and thin, particularly Arjun. Arjun too reciprocated by demonstrating his strong faith and allegiance. When given a choice, Arjun chose Krishna over Krishna’s powerful army for the biggest war of his life. Vowed not to raise weapons, Krishna played Arjun’s charioteer. Earlier, when the Pandav’s decided to make the forests of Khandav their home, Arjun & Krishna teamed up with the God of Fire, Agni and the God of Rain, Varun to clear the forest and make way for their kingdom – Indraprasth. Agni burnt the forest to quench his thirst, whilst Varun blessed Arjun with his celestial bow. Agni also later presented Arjun his chariot with four white horses. Whilst the forest burnt, Arjun saved a demon called Mayasur, who later helped build the magnificent Mayasabha – the hall which became symbolic of the grandeur of the Pandav rule. Mayasur also gifted Arjun with a divine conch, the sound of which later became Arjun’s signature war cry. Arjun’s marriages with Ulupi, Subhadra & Chitrangada were a part of sealing alliances with powerful kingdoms.
All of us need partnerships with people who would add value to our lives. We all need strong alliances which create win-win situations and when based on mutual respect, the alliances tend to sustain over a period of time. All alliances come at a cost and that’s how they need to be so that they are valued. You would need to give something to get something. Your true allies will watch your back when you get on with your act and if the need arises, would also fill in for you. Identifying, winning and maintaining strong alliances end up giving us a strong edge.
8. When in Doubt, Ask
After all peace making initiatives failed, the mighty armies of the Pandav and Kaurav cousins, along with their allies, headed towards battle ground Kurukshetra. Arjun, sat on his four horse chariot he got from Agni, equipped with his celestial bow, divine arrows and with Krishna as his charioteer. His heart sank at the thought of fighting the fiercest battle of his live with none other than his grandsire, gurus, cousins and friends. He thought to himself if a kingdom would be worth the bloodshed of his very own and a though of retiring from the battle before it starts crossed his mind. He shared his doubt with Krishna. What followed was a conversation between Krishna & Arjun with the former speaking of the world, one-self, supreme-self, senses and action.
Never approach things half-heartedly. It’s a recipe for failure. Seeking guidance from someone with an objective of clearing your mind of doubts is not something bad or a sign of weakness. Ask, seek and show inquisitiveness to someone who can guide your path and obviously who you thinks knows more on the subject than you do. It will ensure you single-mindedly focus on execution of your plans, rather than concentrating on the ifs and buts.
9. When in Need, Seek Help
Having his doubts cleared and realizing the purpose of life, Arjun got on with the fierce battle in Kurukshetra. The toughest to face for all of Pandavs was Bhishma – the great grandfather of the warring cousins. Bhishma had the boon to decide the time of his death – making it impossible to kill him. He was also a warrior par excellence – making him unstoppable. Bhishma was bound by his own oath to protect the Kaurav’s till his last breath – which made him go all out on the Pandav forces. Bhishma’s wrath was something the Pandav forces could not handle. The only thing that could be done was to make him drop his weapons and incapacitate him. Arjun could do the latter, provided someone compelled Bhishma to do the former. Shikhandi, a general in the Pandav forces was seen by Bhishma as a woman reborn in a man’s body. Krishna & Arjun realized that Bhishma, being a warrior with high principles, would never attack someone he sees as a woman. Thus Shikandi’s presence with Arjun in the battlefield became necessary, so Arjun could do the needful. Arjun, walked up to Shikandi for help. Shikandi, a less celebrated warrior in the Pandav ranks, was delighted to help. Before dusk the next day, Bhishma lay on a bed of arrows. Far from the battlefield.
Even Arjun couldn’t achieve everything on his own. How so ever strong you are, you will need help and you can’t shy away from the reality. Help need not always come from people at par your capabilities or greater. Help also need not always come from someone with credentials as strong as yours. Situations and circumstances tend to put everyone on the same pedestal making each one of us equal and important under given circumstances. Help also never arrives on its own, it needs to be called for. We need to first realize the need for help, very objectively scan the potential sources and leaving our egos behind, and seek.
10. Bear Losses
The war in Kurukshetra was not a one sided affair. With each passing day, warriors on either side kept falling. Arjun too was subject to the grief of loss of his allies and relatives. The loss that really shattered Arjun was the death of his son Abhimanyu. Having barely crossed his teens, Abhimanyu was a brave heart. Trained under Krishna himself, he was a mirror image of his father when it came to archery. On the thirteenth day of the war, Drona lead the Kaurav army into a circular formation with the objective of capturing Yudhisthir. None on the Pandav side except Arjun and Krishna could tackle such a formation but they were engaged in another fierce battle. Abhimanyu knew the way to break into the formation, but lacked the know how to come out of it. Aware of the fatal consequences, the boy volunteered to lead the Pandav counter attack, but was left alone inside the circular formation. Facing the mighty Kaurav warriors, Abhimanyu fired a barrage of sharp arrows. None were left unhurt as Abhimanyu showed his mettle. The best of the best bled fighting the brave son of Arjun and were so frustrated that they pounced on him together like hungry wolves. There was a deafening silence in the Pandav camp that evening. Abhimanyu had saved the day for his side but never returned to meet Arjun. It was the saddest day of life for the wailing father!
There are times you will be on the receiving end. Nothing in life, worth to be called an achievement, will come without bringing losses and blows. Whilst we do our bit, things will go against us and we will need to sustain stressful situations. In the war zone, no one is immune to losses. With the joy of gains, also comes the sorrow of losses. Situations come in packages and not everything that comes in the package is desirable. A loss can lead to learning and can lead to a stronger resolve. What we make out of our losses, howsoever sever they may be, is in our own hands.
11. Never Forgive, Never Forget
Abhimanyu was cremated with full honours privileged to a brave warrior. Arjun’s sorrow was overpowered by anger. His blood boiling with rage and veins throbbing, Arjun vowed to avenge his son’s death by killing Jayadrath, who did not let any help reach out to Abhimanyu as he singlehandedly fought trapped in the battle formation. Arjun also announced that he would commit suicide by self-immolation if he failed to avenge by sunset the very next day. Arjun’s suicide would lead to a Pandav defeat. No one slept that night with the Pandavs tense and Kauravs planning. With the whole Kaurav army standing between Arjun and Jayadrath the next day on the battlefield, Arjun’s rampage was epic! Flanked by other Pandav warriors, Arjun tore apart the protective formation. With help and good advice from Krishna, Arjun fired a divine arrow, knocking off Jayadrath’s head. Arjun not only avenged the death of Abhimanyu, but in the process also demoralized enemy forces to a great extent.
We forgive once and we have to forgive always. We forget and there is no lesson learnt or taught. We cannot be on the receiving end always. In the war zone, forgiving and forgetting is like adding to the enemy’s armoury and sowing seeds for bigger losses in the future. We must convert anger into energy for action. Our foes ought to know we’re going to give it back.
12. Strike at the Right Time
The fiercest of duels in the war was between Karn and Arjun. Sworn enemies since the day they first saw each other, both were hell-bent on killing the other. The fate of the warring sides depended on the result of the duel between these two as the victor would seal a victory for his side. If Arjun had all divine weapons at his disposal, Karn too was no less even if not equipped with those. On some occasions, Karn had Arjun at his mercy and on others, Arjun left Karn flabbergasted by his salvos. With such a fierce fight in sight, everyone on the battlefield watched awestruck. More than Arjun’s blows, what actually went against Karn were the curses he was subject to. Some, a result of his own past doings, some a result of sheer misfortune. Karn was cursed by his guru that his knowledge would evade him when he needed it the most, thus Karn could not evoke his most potent arrows against Arjun. As a result of another curse, a wheel of Karn’s chariot got stuck in the mud and he dropped his weapons to free the same. Seeing Karn armless, Arjun, on the insistence of Krishna, fired a choicest arrow beheading his dreaded foe. The last hope of the Kauravs lay dead and with this, Arjun completed his part in the Pandav victory.
At times, even the toughest nuts are not as tough to crack. We need to be quick to spot such situations where things can be relatively ‘easier than usual’ to achieve. First we need alert senses of our own and/or a network of trusted of allies, which will first help identify opportune situations. The more the eyes and ears at your service, the better! Once we’re aware of such an opportunity, we have but two ways of dealing with it. Either we do nothing about it and keep going the hard way or make the most of the situation by showing action and getting our way. What we usually won’t get is the luxury of time hence the need would be for a quick decision.
Note: Arjun’s story has been picked from information available in the public domain. The interpretations and lessons derived therefrom are my own.