“Life is suffering,” said the Buddha. “And the cause of suffering is desire.” Somehow, though   I love and revere the Buddha, I cannot agree with him! I prefer the more mellow, wider Hindu spiritualist view: Life is a great cosmic mixture of suffering and joy, pain and pleasure, good and evil, light and dark, a fascinating illusion, a puppet show, a play of shadows which delights and terrifies simultaneously. This reality is the reality I have experienced in seventy-one years of continuous existence in the same body; alternating cycles of the pleasant and unpleasant, the smooth path and the rough path, happiness and sorrow, harmony and conflict, gain and loss. This is the externalized experience of the manifested material world. The internal world of spirit, of course , is another reality.

In coming to grips with the alternating cycles of the ups and downs, the sorrows and happiness’s, the beauty and the ugliness, I have found Mythology to be Psychology. (At least in the Hindu tradition). Especially during the periods of extreme testing, my mind and heart have been both healed and steeled to contemplate the lives of our great Hindu cultural heroines and heroes. I love the sensitive stoicism with which they faced their own horrific challenges. The stories give a positive perspective on life: all tragedies, taken in the proper spirit, are basically Karmic forces which forge qualities of character which would not have manifested under more pleasant conditions.

I have looked to the Mahabharata and Ramayana, as two great epic textbooks in the cultivation of consciousness and  skillful living. When I face great difficulties I often think of the Pandavas who were forced to undergo terrible hardships despite their commitment to righteousness. They became the constant target  of Duryodhana’s greed and jealous nature, and this harsh destiny deprived them of their princely life which was their birthright. Sage Vyasa skillfully wove the stories of Nala, Rama and others in the Mahabharata and had a sage narrate those stories to the five brothers to bring about a therapeutic value to the suffering of the five Pandavas. Even those great warriors took solace from the stories of the trials and tribulations of other great heroes.

These stories of mythological dimension drive home the truth that there is no short-cut to escape sorrow. Sorrow and suffering are integral to human life, and one should learn to cope with them gradually. From a psychological angle, people learn to accept their sorrow when they come to know of the extent of the suffering others have faced. They then realize that they are more fortunate. Moreover, there is no such thing as absolute sorrow. The intensity of grief is always relative. The underlying Rasa or emotional tone in Rama’s story is the pathos arising from the depth of sorrow that the Rama and Sita undergo. Rama’s auspicious qualities have always been attractive and His commitment to truth and dharma highly inspirational in instilling the virtues of fortitude and equanimity. Much is to be gained by emulating Rama’s attitude towards joy and sorrow alike. He is an example of the man of Stithaprajna, or steady wisdom. On the eve of his coronation he was told by his step mother he must abdicate the throne, and go instead into forest exile for fourteen years. He accepted her words calmly, gracefully and cheerfully, with a smile!

During the dark days of the horrendous attack on us at Kambliswamy Madam. I was forced to spend many days each week inside the Chennai High Court. Such abstract, lengthy, ambiguous proceedings were totally draining physically, mentally and emotionally. I often fell into depressed states of mind. My High Court Advocate’s wife, an advocate herself, often encouraged me by reminding me of various stories from the Mahabharata. Her favorite tale was that of the disrobing of Draupadi in the Court of Duryodhana. “Draupadi was a fiercely proud queen, as you well know, “she would begin as she served me a hot cup of tea in her home after the day’s long proceedings. Yes , I knew well this story but such is the beauty of our Hindu myth – history that one can listen over and over again to the same story. Settling herself opposite me, she would continue. “Duryodhana was determined to humiliate her, since she was to all purposes his slave, having won her as a prize in a game of dice he played with Yudhistira, one of her five husbands! So, he called her to the open court, where all the Ministers, Kings, Commanders and rulers of Hastinapura and its allies were assembled. All of Draupadi’s husbands were also present but they could do nothing to help her. According to the Kshayatrian (Warriors) code, Draupadi now was Duryodhana’s property! Duryodhana ordered his brother Dushasana to disrobe Draupadi  in front of all the men. He pulled on her saree. She clung tightly to the garment trying to protect her modesty. But, Dushasana was succeeding. Draupadi realized she could not save herself from shame. In great grief she released her grip on her saree and lifted her arms high over her head calling out! Krishna! Krishna! I surrender to thee ! Save me from this disgrace! As soon as Draupadi let loose her hold, Lord Krishna caused a miracle to occur. Draupadi’s  saree  became unending, no matter how much Dushasana tugged and pulled, more and more cloth appeared. Dushasana pulled and pulled but he could not remove the hundreds of meters of endless cloth and he fell to the floor in exhaustion “Nagamani concluded the tale. I drank my tea and nodded. Then she made her point.

“Remember! Only when Draupadi surrendered to the will of the Lord and released her efforts did the Lord intervene to save her. He saved her honour in a most unexpected manner. Like that, you must give up and give in to the Lord. He will find an unexpected way to save all of you and the Madam too!” This story consoled me and helped me forge this attitude: Do your best, and leave the rest. Let go and let God. Accept God’s will and do not resist what happens. Everything is for the evolutionary development of your soul! “ Like that, hundreds of similar stories from the great epics, Puranas and Upanishads have become beautiful guides and counselors to millions of people through the millennia as they navigate the turbulent waters of the Samskaric  ocean.

The impact of sorrow is greatest when one is actually facing it. But with the passage of time the grief gradually loses its power to hurt just as objects appear big when viewed from close quarters and become smaller when distant. Often terrible events are transformed even to comedies with the passage of time, which gives both distance and perspective. Vairagya or detachment implies keeping a safe distance from something. Time gives us that “safe” distance. The ancient advice “Remember, this too shall pass!” is a Mantra which inculcates Vairagya. Dramas and stories also give that “distance” as we experience them with Vairagya, enabling us to view a similar situation more clearly.  One is forced to continue with one’s existence despite the sorrow. One then recalls Lord Krishna’s advice to Arjuna: “Face to face with what must be, what need is there for sorrow?” Sorrow thus is a waste of energy! This is the Psychology of Mythology! Such thoughts enable us to rise above sorrow and experience life with joy!