Humanities 201 India: The Mahābhārata
Part Two Q's
India's Heroic Age (550 B.C. - A. D. 100)
ancient Indo-Aryan language
last in series of 4 sacred hymn books, Hinduism's
guiding principle of proper human conduct; sacred duty
worldly profit, wealth, and political power
India's dominant religious tradition
the religious faith of Muslims including belief in Allah
as the sole deity and in Muhammad as his prophet
"unique combination of radical detachment from desire,
the root cause of karma, and an ethic of action directed
only toward the welfare of one's fellow creatures" (Norton
[earlier edition] 840)
personal religious teacher and spiritual guide in
one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that
restrict the occupation of their members and their
association with the members of other castes
single, divine essence: the soul of man is a
manifestation of the Brahman; gods are seen as
"personification of nature and the powers of the cosmos" (Norton
[earlier edition] 838)
pleasure and love
sacred counsel, formula;a
mystical formula of invocation or incantation
EPICS of India's Heroic Age:
originated in oral tradition, like Old Testament
grounded in actual events, yet similar to Iliad
Four classes (varna)
of Indian society (see p. 684):
brāhmaṇa(priest) transmitter of vedas
karma: "action": principle that
"all deeds, good and bad, have inevitable results, which must be
borne by the doer in an existential state, so that the soul is
trapped in an endless cycle of birth and death" (Norton
[earlier edition] 840)
mokşa: ultimate goal of life--liberation
from constraints of worldly existence- denied to sudras and
women (lesser goals include dharma, artha,
Men: bound by a prescribed program of sacred duty (dharma)
that is appropriate to their class (varna)
Women: "form a class in themselves, for a woman's dharma
is defined as that of a wife, allowing women no identities or
aspirations apart from their allegiance to their husbands" (Norton[earlier ed.] 839).
Caste system: larger number of "service" castes
subordinated to a small number of elite groups.
Quatama Buddha (563-483 B.C.) & Mahavira (d. 468 B.C.)
In Buddhism, "every person, regardless of caste, gender,
or social status, could follow the Buddha's path (the Dharma)
with the ultimate aim of becoming liberated from karma
rebirth by becoming a buddha, or ‘an
enlightened one'" (Norton [earlier ed.]
"The populist, egalitarian religions preached by Gautama
Buddha and his near-contemporary Mahavira presented a
formidable challenge to the elaborate socio-religious system
engineered by the Hindu elites" (Norton[earlier
absorbed and synthesized features from its rival
religions, incorporating concepts of salvation
and grace, thus allowing it eventually to
triumph over competing religions in India, including Buddhism
and Islam, but especially Buddhism.
"For Hindus the terror of rebirth [and karma] is mitigated
by belief in a triad of great gods who are the highest
manifestations of the divine principle underlying the
universe" (Norton [earlier ed.] 841).
"Although there are many gods [including Brahmā,
the creator],Viṣṇu, the preserver, and Śiva,
the destroyer, stand out as supreme deities, for Hindus
worship one or the other as God, whose grace will help deliver
them from the bonds of karma rebirth" (Norton [earlier
All three are components of Iswara,
creator of the universe, communion with whom can be achieved
only through samadhi,
"a meditative state that breaks consciousness with the
physical world" (Khorana 555).
(ca. 400 B.C. - A. D. 400) See link with more extensive background
100,000 verses: 8 x (Iliad + Odyssey)
Depicts war (ca. 1400-1300 B.C.) between two branches of
the Bharata family, the Pāndavas,
the five sons of Pāndu (including
Arjuna, "son" of warrior god, Indra)
and Kauravas, the one hundred evil sons
of Dhritarashtra, elder half-brother who's
disqualified from being king because blind.
"Every clansman in North India [allies] himself with the
one or the other party" (Norton [earlier
(1st century B.C.) "Song of the Lord" part of 6th book of Mahābhārata
"response of brahman thinkers who stood to lose the most
from the potential disintegration of the Hindu social system"
"articulates a new doctrine that will justify the
hierarchies of class and social duty. . . at the same time
that it offers universal access to the ultimate goal of the
emancipation of the soul from suffering and rebirth" (Norton[earlier ed.] 958).
"In short, social and moral law takes care of the
content of action, but the individual has control over the
spirit in which he performs the action and, therefore, over
how his deeds will affect his soul" (Norton [earlier
Things to Consider:
Relationship b/w Gods and Humans
Enlightenment and Blindness
Khrishna and Arjuna
in medias res
sacred duty (dharma): "action
performed in the spirit of sacred duty will advance him on the
path to emancipation of the spirit, the Hindu's ultimate
religious goal" (Norton[earlier
This is a big deal: merges karma
with salvation through divine grace
In what ways is Hinduism "a fundamentally pluralistic
Describe the relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism.
The Mahābhāratadescribes the fighting between which two groups? Why are
Why does Arjuna refuse to fight? In this regard, how does
he compare with earlier warriors such as Enkidu?
Pdf Preface: iv:
Explain: "The battle of the Mahabharata
is still raging within" (iv).
Explain the metaphors in the rest of paragraph.
Of what three fundamental factors is
man a composite, according to the preface?
According to the preface, what are the three
kinds of temperament?
What, according to the preface, is the central
teaching of the Gita?
What, according to the introduction, is the root of the
conflict between the Pandavas and Kauravas?
Other Discussion Questions: Norton Introduction: 679:
Explain the relationship among Persian, Greek,
Latin, and Sanskrit language and literature.
What is a mantra? How is it different
from a poem?
What are the Vedas? the Upanishads?
What is the difference between śruti and
Describe the practice of oral transmission of the Hindu
According to the editors, what "world" does the Mahābhārata
Describe the main idea of Hinduism.
Explain the difference among Brahman, brāhmaṇa,
What is the ātman?
Describe the differences between the Rāmāyaṇa
and the Mahābhārata.
What is the difference between nirvāna and
Pdf Preface: iv:
What is the name of the battlefield that serves as the
setting for this work?
Define the following: yoga, vedanta, bhakh, and karma.
Explain the interaction of Duryodhana and Arjuna with
Bhagavad-Gītā Homework Questions: I. Yoga of Despondency: 1:
Who are Dhritarashtra and Sanjaya?
Explain Arjuna's thinking as he drops his bow.
II. Sankhya Yoga: 6:
Why does Krishna consider Arjuna's dejection
unworthy of him and disgraceful?
Explain Krishna's response to Arjuna's explanation
of his sorrow.
Explain: "Just as a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts
on new ones, so also the embodied Self casts off worn-out
bodies and enters others that are new" (2.22).
What is a righteous war?
Explain: "to one who has been dishonoured, dishonour is
worse than death" (2.34).
Explain: "Actions done with expectation of its reward
bring bondage" (2.47).
Explain "Clinging to the fruits of actions is the
cause of rebirth" (2.51).
Explain: "like the tortoise which withdraws its limbs on
all sides, he [the Sthitaprajna, or stable-minded
person]withdraws his senses from the sense-objects, then his
wisdom becomes steady" (2.58).
Other Discussion Questions: Book I: 2-3:
Why do so many characters blow conch shells?
According to Arjuna, what does intermingling of
Book II: 8:
What is a kshatriya?
Describe the three Gunas.
What does the Yoga of Wisdom involve?
Part Two: Homework Questions: III. The Yoga of Action: 16:
What, according to Krishna, is "the constant enemy of the
wise" (3.39) and thus the root cause of all evil actions?
Explain the relative importance of body, senses, mind,
intellect, and Self.
IV. The Yoga of Wisdom (Summary)
How, according to the text, does one achieve immortality?
V. The Yoga of Renunciation of Action (Summary)
Explain the nature of Arjuna's confusion in this section.
Is it justified? Explain.
VI. The Yoga of Meditation (Summary)
Explain: "He who has perfect control of the body, mind,,
and senses . . . . sees inwardly that there is no difference
between gold and stone, between friends and enemies, between
the righteous and the unrighteous" (19).
VII. The Yoga of Wisdom and Realization (Summary)
Describe the different manifestations of Krishna.
VIII. The Yoga of the Imperishable Brahman (Summary)
How, according to Krishna, does one achieve
liberation from rebirth?
XI. The Yoga of the Vision of the Cosmic Form
Describe Arjuna's cosmic vision.
What is the divine eye?
Who is Vishnu? How does he figure in Arjuna's cosmic
Other Discussion Questions:
Define: Moha, Atman.
What is Prakriti? What three qualities comprise it? (See
also p. 20).
Why, according to Krishna, is action superior to inaction?
What does it involve to "follow the wheel" (3.16)?
What is a guru? How does a guru help one achieve
According to the text, what is the most important
qualification for a spiritual aspirant? Explain.
Explain: "[A]lthough the intellect, mind, and senses are
active, he does not do anything" (18).
What is a Samyasin? What is a Sankalpa?
What, according to Krishna, are the best practices for
What is Brahmacharya?
IX. The Yoga of Kingly Science and the Kingly Secret (Summary)
Why, according to Krishna, are ignorant beings like
X. The Yoga of the Divine Glories (Summary)
How, according to Krishna, is ignorance destroyed and
Who/What is Mahatma?
For what does Arjuna beg forgiveness? What has motivated
him to do so?