It is said that half a truth is often a great lie. But there are times when even God would sanction deceit. Krishna did so, on the 15th day of the Battle at Kurukshetra.
Guru Dronacharya, it seems, was arbitrarily using specialized weapons to mass slaughter common soldiers. According to the code of classical warfare, divine weapons couldn’t be drawn on against ordinary soldiers. With neither knowledge of them nor the capacity to defend themselves when attacked by such astras, the Pandava army was withering by the thousands.
Someone had to stop this Master Blaster!
Krishna said to Arjuna, “If Guru Drona is not defeated, we will not have a single soldier left until sunset.” The Pandava Brothers convened and a strategy was schemed. Krishna began, “Guru Drona possesses unrivalled strength that only comes with a lifetime of penance and practice. No one can defeat him, unless he lays down his arms himself. And he would only do so if his son Ashvatthama is killed, without whom he will have nothing left worth fighting for. Because we can’t put him down while his father lives to shield him, Bheema must kill the elephant named Ashvatthama in our cavalry. We can then merely spread the news:
“Ashvatthama is dead!” Guru Drona will yield when he hears his son is no more. At that very moment, Drishtadyumna may execute the Guru.”
Yudhishthira, who had never before told a lie in his life and Arjuna, who loved his Guru dearly, were both hesitant. If Ashvatthama, Drona’s warring son was truly killed, only then would they testify to their Guru. Lying to him was a travesty of all his teachings.
To them Krishna explained, “You are fighting this war to uphold Dharma; to uphold righteousness. Your Guru is consciously fighting on the side of evil; for the sinners. Sometimes, you must plant thorns around a flowering plant to keep destructive beasts at bay. Today, you might have to plant a thorn of lies for the greater good of a fruit named Dharma to survive and thrive.”
He continued, “Blinded by his love for his son, Guru Drona, couldn’t make the distinction between right and wrong and slighted all his misdeeds. Your goal is noble. You are following the very path of righteousness illumined by your Guru. The means may be temporarily dishonest, but the end is principled.”
The brothers consented. Bheema played his part and word reached Dronacharya, “Ashvatthama is dead!”
The Guru approached Yudhishthira, “You have never told a lie in your life. Tell me, is my son Ashvatthama truly dead?”
Yudhishthira replied, “Yes, Ashvatthama is dead.” Krishna then blew the conch to drown out the latter part of his response, “Naro va Kunjaro va”. Whether man or elephant – he was Ashvatthama.
Burning with fury, Dronacharya, swore to decimate the whole planet. He saw no purpose in life or those around him. At this point, time froze and so did everyone else. Krishna stepped off his chariot into an independent dialogue with the Guru.
“Tell me Guru Drona, what if I told you that the Ashvatthama that has been slayed is not your son but in fact, an elephant by the same name, will your faith in life be restored? Will your heart be filled with warmth and feeling and concern?”
Guru Drona, suddenly buoyant, inquired, “My son lives, Vasudev?”
Krishna smirked, “Well, if he hasn’t died today, he may well tomorrow. Who lives forever Guru Drona?! The true question though is whether your joys and sorrows, hope and despair, understanding and ignorance; everything is tied to your child? Does your life have no other significance? Is all your power; all your knowledge, directed towards solely benefitting your son?”
“Of course!” the Guru shot back, vehemently, “I’m the reason he came into this world. He’s given me happiness, respect and love. Nothing is more important to me than him. Doesn’t every father love his son the most?”
“Then introspect Guru Drona, as a father who loves his son the most, what did you give your son?”
“I gave him love, knowledge and opportunities to prosper; the ability to rule and flourish in his own kingdom.”
“And what about principles? Morality? Values? Character? Wisdom? Fair and just judgment? Did you teach him his Dharma? Did you help him have a conscience? Does he have any ethics? Any scruples? Did you give him anything to protect himself with, irrespective of your presence? Anything that would keep him together, even after you were gone?”
Guru Drona was discomfited. Krishna carried on, “I’m aware that not everyone can be a warrior as prodigious as Karna or Arjuna but you could have taught him how to tell right from wrong. Had you done so, today your son wouldn’t have been an enemy of Dharma and contrary to reality, you too would be standing to protect it.
You say you gave him love. False! Love liberates. It elevates your soul. It distinguishes between the honourable and dishonourable. It takes birth from empathy. You gave him attachment; the arrogance that he was invincible with you around. The assurance that you’d condone every action; go to the wall for any of his convictions; any of his pursuits – virtuous or vile. If only you had truly loved him, taught him to struggle independently; to embrace it, he’d have turned out stronger.
In a bid to upgrade his status, you allowed him to downgrade his character. And you too chose to endorse injustice because of the choices he made. He made these choices out of greed and fear and selfishness – your teachings. All of which resound the bitter truth: you were never a Guru; always just a teacher.
“Please don’t say that, Krishna!” begged the royal preceptor.
Krishna, hard-hitting as ever, kept at it, “Gurus bestow knowledge. They don’t trade in it. That’s why Gurus receive Dakshina, an offering made out of willingness and capability. Not a price. But today, you have managed to put a price tag on what was believed to be invaluable. You were ready to wreak vengeance on your students for defending Dharma.
You are not a Guru! You’re incapable of being one. Because your covetousness let you disengage from the right path.
Let go Dronacharya! Let go of your conceit, for once in your life. Latch onto Dharma and surrender! I could do away with you in a flash but I want you to be the one to make that decision yourself!”
“You’re right Vasudev. If I’m the reason Ashvatthama came into this world, I am also the reason why he turned out the way he has. I must be punished. I accept failure and submit to you.”
As Krishna settled back into his chariot, time was reinstituted.
Letting his bow fall to the ground, the Brahmin followed, in prayer. Drishtadyumna, suzerain of the Pandava army, then beheaded him.
Guru Drona’s passing precipitated a giant leap, not far from victory, for the Pandavas, the guardians of Dharma.
Surely, this was one great lie that revealed a greater truth of self to ancient India’s most hallowed mentors.
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