War drums of long ago



The combattants “blew their loud-sounding conches and cymbals of sweet sounds…a frightful dust arose and nothing could be seen, for the sun himself, suddenly enveloped by it, seemed to have set….both armies, filled with joy, stood addrest for battle, on Kurukshetra like two agitated oceans.”  At the start of  the Kurukshetra war, recounted in the Mahabharata, two armies stood poised on the battlefield.


The Mahabharata is one of the two great epic poems of India.  It is long – eighteen volumes, and much of it deals with a great war that lasts eighteen days.  It is a civil war fought between two branches of a royal family – the Pandavas and the Kurus.


The Pandavas are the five sons of King Pandu, who has died, and the Kurus are the one hundred sons of King Dhritarashtra, who cannot rule because he is blind, and the customs of the time forbid him from ruling.


There has been much speculation about when in history this war may have occurred, with estimates ranging from 5,000 BCE to around 600 BCE.  No one knows for sure.


The entirety of Book Five is an account of the peace efforts that take place before the beginning of hostilities, as representatives of the Pandavas tried unsuccessfully to arrange a truce in order to avoid bloodshed.  The Pandavas did not want to fight.  Duryodhana, prince and leader of the Kurus insisted on war.


The Pandavas were closely related to the Kurus. They had grown up in the same family. Although the Pandavas, by right, could have demanded half of the lands claimed by the Kurus, which comprised a large part of India, they asked only for five villages – a tiny request – one village for each of the five Pandava brothers.


It may seem odd that a village should belong to someone, but this was a feudal system, not unlike the feudal system in medieval Europe where the people, villages, and lands belonged to the lord of the domain.


In any case, the Pandavas asked for only five villages, but this request was denied, and the Kuru leader, Duryodhana, was bent on going to war.  This followed many years of unfair and unjust treatment that Duryodhana had inflicted on his cousins, the Pandavas.




Even the divine Krishna himself traveled to Hastinapura, the city of the Kurus, to make a plea that this war should not be fought, that there should be peace, and that the two branches of the family should rule the great kingdom together in harmony. The olive branch that he extended was rejected.


With all attempts at reconciliation having failed, war was now inevitable. Seeing that they had to fight, all the young warriors turned their attention to boasting about how they would vanquish the enemy. They were at this point, eager for battle and confident that the victory would be theirs.  The next morning at dawn, they would begin the battle. Both sides anticipated victory and looked forward to a good fight.


This was not a small war. Hundreds of thousands of warriors traveled from all the corners of India and beyond to take part in the war.  They brought with them many thousands of war elephants and horses, who, sadly, would also be wounded and killed in the fighting.


The war was catastrophic, and nearly everyone on both sides was killed.  The Pandavas won the war; however, it was a hollow victory; with the destruction and deaths of so many, nothing was gained, and there was no happiness or joy in the victory, only a sense of sorrow and desolation. The five Pandava brothers, and their wife, Draupadi, in despair, climbed a mountain to end their lives. (The five brothers shared one wife, with each of them spending one year at a time with her. It is explained in the story how this came about.)


One by one they died during the ascent up the mountain, until, at the summit, only the just King Yudisthera, the eldest of the Pandava brothers, remained alive. A little dog had accompanied him on his way up the mountain. On the summit of the mountain, he was offered the chance to ascend to heaven, but only if he went on alone, abandoning the dog who had followed him so faithfully. Yudisthera declined, refusing to enter heaven if his dog could not come with him.




Then the dog revealed himself as the Lord of Dharma or righteousness.  This had been a test of Yudisthera’s loyalty.  He had passed the test, and he and his dog entered heaven together.  His four brothers and Draupadi who had already died, would follow them into heaven as soon as they had fulfilled their karma.


The war of the Mahabharata brought the end of the great cosmic age, the dvapara yuga, which was an age when heroes, courage, and noble values still existed. The ending of the war ushered in the current age, an age of degeneration and corruption, which is the time we live in today.


There is much more, of course, to this story, which fills eighteen volumes. It is a story relevant to all times and places. As the story of a terrible war that ended in immense calamity, it is perhaps particularly relevant today.  Despite every effort of the Pandava princes to prevent a conflict that would end in disaster, they were drawn along relentlessly by the inexorable forces of war which they could do nothing to stop.





Top image: Wikimedia Commons / “A manuscript illustration (18th c.?) of the Battle of Kurukshetra, fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, recorded in the Mahabharata Epic.” / “This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.”


Second image: Source: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/krishna-mediating-between-the-pandavas-and-kauravas-from-an-illustrated-manuscript-of-the-razmnama-mahabharata-148638 / Wikimedia Commons /  “This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

“This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

“You must also include a United States public domain tag to indicate why this work is in the public domain in the United States.” / Indian, Mughal period, about 1600 / “Krishna Mediating between the Pandavas and Kauravas, from an illustrated manuscript of the Razmnama (Mahabharata).”


Third image: Source: http://archive.org/details/mahabharata06ramauoft / Author: Ramanarayanadatta astri / “This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

“This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years. /

“You must also include a United States public domain tag to indicate why this work is in the public domain in the United States.” / Wikimedia Commons / Yudisthera ascending to heaven with his dog.






Another view of history…


By Vasu Murti

Reposted with permission. 

The pyramids are “basically expensive tombstones…” says Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Yes. That’s the way Sri Rupa dasi (Amy Smith) referred to the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal was built in India by Muslim ruler Shah Jahan as a memorial to his deceased wife.

It’s considered an exhibition of the emperor’s undying love for his departed wife.

But devout Hindus see it differently!

According to the Vedic (also known as Hindu) literatures, the soul or conscious self is different from the physical body, and transmigrates from body to body, throughout 8,400,000 different species of life.

Because the conscious self is different from the physical body, Vedic civilization was based on liberating the soul from the cycle of repeated birth and death.

Contemporary Hindu spiritual master Ravindra-svarupa dasa (Dr. William Deadwyler) explains:

“In that Vedic culture, everything was organized to further self-realization. Self-realization marks the ultimate development of human potential, in which a person knows himself directly as an eternal spiritual being, intangibly bound to the supreme spiritual being, and without intrinsic relation to a temporarily inhabited material body.

“By cultivating self-realization, the Vedic civilization brought off this unparalleled achievement: it was able to eliminate completely the evils of birth, old age, disease, and death, securing for its members an eternal existence of knowledge and ever-increasing bliss.

“The Vedic culture recognized that not all souls who took human birth after transmigrating up through the animal forms would be able to make direct progress toward the supreme goal. Owing to different histories, people are born with different qualities and abilities.

“Nevertheless, Vedic culture enabled everyone to make some gradual advancement , and there were many arrangements for the gradual elevation of materialistic people. In any case, Vedic culture organized life so that everyone could satisfy the basic necessities in the simplest and most sensible way, leaving most of human energy free for the higher task…

“Far from being a sign of intellectual advancement, the appearance of writing is a testimony of decline, a device seize upon by to compensate for that mental deterioration which includes the loss of the ability to remember…

“It is interesting, by the way, that the Vedic date assigned to the advent of Kali Yuga (our current age of quarrel and hypocrisy which began in 3102 BC) corresponds closely to the date set by modern historians for the rise of civilized life, an event signaled by the appearance of literacy and the emergence of complex urban societies.

“All that historians recognize as recorded human history is, in fact, only human history in Kali Yuga. The academic historians’ ignorance of the earlier and incalculably higher Vedic civilization is what we have to expect from people suffering from the mental retardation of the times…

“They are unaware that simple living (agrarianism) is the best basis for high thinking, and that a truly advanced civilization minimizes exploitation of nature and social complexity. They do not know that a real standard of progress is the caliber of people society produces.

“If we pursue material advancement at the expense of self-realization, measuring our standard of living only by the gratification of our senses, then we will only get a spiritually and morally debilitated people in control of an intricate and powerful technology–a terrifying combination that leads to horrors on a scale we are just beginning to experience.”

The advent of Kali Yuga is marked by the appearance of literacy and the emergence of complex urban societies. Similarly, because the conscious self is different from the physical body, and transmigrates from body to body, and Vedic civilization was meant to foster self-realization, to liberate the soul from the cycle of repeated birth and death, civilized people *cremate* the body, with the understanding that the soul is separate and distinct from the physical body.

The emergence of burial places, tombstones, etc. similarly are not a sign of the emergence of civilization, rather they are found in cultures which do not recognize that the soul is different from the body.

Hindu spiritual master Srila Ramesvara Swami commented in the 1980s that resurrection is a belief in the afterlife for persons so attached to their temporary material bodies, they can’t conceive of existing without them!

Sri Rupa dasi (Amy Smith), a devout Hindu (it was reported in 1986 that she felt she was setting a poor example as a congregational leader for our congregation by divorcing), said that when visiting the holy places in India on pilgrimage, she saw the Taj Mahal (a tourist attraction!) along these lines:

Not as a testimony of romantic love, but as a burial place, a tombstone, etc. haunted by ghosts!

Photo: Author: Matthew Laird Acred. Original uploader was Acred99 at en.wikipedia / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  Attribution: Acred99 at en.wikipedia” / Wikimedia Commons / “Taj Mahal Mausoleum is known for its color changes going from white, yellow and pink depending on the time of day.”

To read more of Vasu Murti’s writing, click here.

Vasu Murti’s email address is vasumurti@netscape.net

“The Illusion of Time” and a thought or two



A star-forming region known as N90. See credit below.

Brian Greene’s “The Illusion of Time, part of the series “The Fabric of the Cosmos” aired Sunday evening, July 22, 2012, on “Nova” on PBS.  Here’s a summary, followed by a couple of thoughts.


“Time is not what it seems…There may be no distinction between the past, present, and future.” Discoveries in quantum physics suggest that time is entirely different from how we perceive it to be in our daily lives.


All cultures, including very ancient ones, have found time fascinating.  The Maya for example calculated time with three different, interrelated calendars; for the sun, the moon, and Venus.

The Crab Nebula. See credit below.



In our search to measure time, the rotation of the earth and its revolution around the sun became our first clock.


Today, instead of measuring the earth’s rotation, the atomic clock measures the frequency of the cesium atom, which, in one second ticks 9 billion, 192 million times.


Asking the question, “Time is a mystery.  What is it we’re actually measuring?” Brian Greene recalled the work of Einstein.


For Newton, time had been absolute and immutable.  But with Einstein, time is experienced differently by each of us, and is affected by motion through space and time.  Time and space are linked, and one person’s time is not the same as another’s.  Although time moves more slowly for a person in motion, this is not something that we can observe in our everyday lives, but scientific experiments have proven that this is true.

The Orion Nebula. See credit below.


By an experiment in which a jet plane circled the earth and time was measured by atomic clocks on the plane and on the ground, it was demonstrated that time moved more slowly on the plane, which was in motion, than it did on the earth.


The sharp differentiation that we make between past, present and future is an illusion because, Brien Greene explained, according to Einstein, “Time and space are fused together as space/time.”


In a different galaxy thousands of light years distant, an alien who is riding on a bicycle away from us, would not (assuming that he could look at us through his telescope) see us as we are in the present; instead he would see us in the past – perhaps during the time of Beethoven.  If the same alien were riding towards us on his bicycle, he would see us, not in the present, but in the future – perhaps as we will be 200 years from now. So, says Brian Greene, “Past, present, and future are all equally real….the future is not non-existent….Einstein shattered the distinction between past, present, and future.”


Just as, in a movie, every frame already exists on film, the flow of time, from a past that exists to a future that does not yet exist, is an illusion.


Though we think of wormholes as something belonging to science fiction, Einstein’s equations actually predict them, and they would provide gateways through both space and time.  Perhaps even if we don’t jump into them, we might just peer through them as a window to view what is far, far away, what has been, or what will be.


One of the most puzzling aspects of time is that it is one directional, though there is theoretically no reason why time should not flow in both directions.  There is simply the fact that it doesn’t.  The laws of physics do say in fact that time could go backwards, so the question asked is “Why doesn’t it?”  If one drops a wine glass and it shatters, one can’t reverse the action and have all the pieces streaming back together again.  Our lives go irreversibly in one direction, which leads to the question, “What is responsible for the arrow of time?”


Entropy is randomness, meaning that everything has a tendency to move toward disorder, like the pages of a book that fall apart, but do not fall back together again.

Billowing smoke becomes disordered.  Degrees of messiness increase.


The Mystic Mountain in the Carina Nebula. See credit below.


This problem of the directionality of time seems to be solved by taking entropy into account. The arrow of time comes from the tendency of nature to move towards increasing disorder. If one goes all the way back to the Big Bang, one arrives at a highly ordered situation.


At a single moment at the beginning, all matter was compressed neatly into one single point, all precisely ordered. After that came the beginning of disorder.  The universe expanded and spread out.  It can’t be put back, like the genie can’t be put back into the lamp.  So, at the Big Bang, the arrow of time was given its direction toward disorder. “Time is a 13.7 billion year old drive toward disorder.”


Scientists, who used to assume that the expansion of the universe was slowing over time, had a rude awakening a few years ago, with the discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating – going faster and faster, and the galaxies are hurtling away from each other.  One day, our descendants will see no other galaxies, and the cosmic past will be out of reach.  Eventually there will be no movement and no time.  Brian Greene summed it up by saying, “The flow of time is an illusion…We are part of a far richer and far stranger reality.”


A thought or two


“The Illusion of Time” is very fascinating and brilliantly presented, though it does come to a rather grim ending. (We can’t, of course, hold scientists responsible for how the universe ends.)


However, interestingly, the idea that time and space are illusory is not new at all.  It is at least 5,000 years old – maybe 10,000 – maybe it is a timeless concept that has always been there.


The ancient texts of India describe time and space as illusory, as maya, having the appearance of reality, but not having the quality of ultimate reality.  We do not see the world as it truly is because of the veil of maya, just as, on a cloudy day, we do not see the sun hidden behind the cloud cover.  We do not see the true nature of time and space, until the veil is removed from our eyes.


Concerning the concept of entropy, long ago Hindu seers wrote that there are four ages – each on a lower, baser level than the last, until one arrives at the fourth, last age, the Kali Yuga, the age where we find ourselves now—an age of dishonesty, corruption, and negativity. This is an example of entropy – of traveling inexorably from order to disorder.


The concept of time as linear is, by and large, a western concept. In eastern thought, time tends to be not linear, but cyclical.  The four ages, the yugas, are one day in the life of Brahma, the Creator.  At the end of this day, Brahma goes to sleep, and then at dawn he awakens, ready to start a new day composed of another four ages.  Of course it’s somewhat more complicated, but that is a rough outline of what happens.  The four ages are one day in the life of Brahma.


This concept has a few things to be said for it – for one, it is not grim; for another, it has not only a poetic quality, but also a truthful quality.  And it transcends the problem of being stuck in a purely physical reality.


Brian Greene is a brilliant physicist who has taken us on an amazing journey into a strange world, a very thought-provoking journey.


Physicists of today are by no means limiting themselves to a linear view, quite the contrary.  There is the concept of multiverses.  (Brian Greene examines this in other programs, as part of the “Fabric of the Cosmos” series.)  This is the idea that there may not be just one universe, but countless or infinite parallel worlds; and one individual may exist in many of these at the same time or different times.  Have you ever felt that you were in more than one place?


A book that takes a look at this possibility is “2012” by Whitney Strieber.

It’s basically a horror novel, but if you don’t mind the horror bits too much (I did actually mind, but found the book intriguing anyway), it is fascinating reading.


Then, from another angle altogether, there is the legend of the Chinese general who lost a very important battle. It is said that the reason he lost the battle is that many years later, mistakes were made in the liturgy of his funeral.  The mistakes caused his life to be less auspicious and therefore led to the loss of the battle.  I suppose, if we are not too confused already, we could meditate on this as an alternate view of time and destiny.


In all societies of the past, ancient spiritual traditions recognized many levels of reality. There is the material level of everyday life where we walk along on our journey from day to day, but there are also the broader, more sunlit levels above, of mystical or magical realities from which we see with different eyes – seeing farther and more clearly—beyond the bounds of time and space. The things we cannot see from this earthly level, can be seen from other levels, as if we are looking out the window of an airplane or riding on a magic bird that flies above the clouds.


Photo credits:

“ESA/Hubble images, videos and web texts are released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license and may on a non-exclusive basis be reproduced without fee provided they are clearly and visibly credited.”

Top photo: Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration / A star-forming region known as N90, on the outskirts of the Small Magellanic Cloud.

Second photo: NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University). Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble) / The Crab Nebula. Observers in China and Japan recorded the supernova nearly 1,000 years ago, in 1054

Third photo: Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team / The Orion Nebula

Fourth photo: Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI) / The Carina Nebula: The Mystic Mountain

For more Hubble images and information, click here

For more on the Nova series, “The Fabric of Time”, click here.