In the Karna Parva of the Mahabharata, a very interesting incident takes place on the 17th day, just prior to the slaying of Karna by Arjuna. This particular episode has some great lessons that are valid even today.
Karna and Yudhishtira enter into a duel. Karna defeats Yudhishtira very badly and in fact the Pandava suffers serious injuries. He is carried back to the camp and is made to rest and recover there. Arjuna after fighting valiantly with the Samsaptakas approaches Bhimasena and enquires about Yudhishtira. Bhimasena tells him about how the King was badly injured fighting Karna. Arjuna then requests Bhimasena to head back to the camp and check on the older brother’s health. Bhimasena refuses to do this. He says that he will never return from the battlefield leaving a fight in-between. He instructs Arjuna to check on Yudhishtira and calmly assures him that the Samsaptakas will be taken care of!
Heeding to Bhimasena’s advise, Arjuna returns to the camp with Lord Krishna and approaches Yudhishtira. Being very weak on account of the injuries and seeing Arjuna near him, Yudhishtira mistakenly assumes that Karna has been killed and Arjuna has returned to give him that news. Insult and injury by Karna makes Yudhishtira’s anger towards him very acute. Arjuna replies that he had arrived there only to check on him and that he will return back and kill Karna. This news disappoints Yudhishtira a lot and he resorts to berating Arjuna. Yudhishtira vents out all his frustration at Arjuna and accuses him of deserting Bhimasena and returning from the battlefield.
In the heat of the moment, Yudhishtira asks Arjuna to “give up the Gandiva” and says that he will ask Bhimasena or Lord Krishna to kill Karna. This statement makes Arjuna extremely furious. He draws his sword and rushes towards his brother. Krishna stops him and asks him the reason for drawing the sword. Arjuna replies that he has a secret vow that anyone who asks him to give up his bow shall be slain by him. In those days, Kshatriyas had the habit of making a secret vow at the time of completion of their training and they were expected to keep the vow at any cost. Yudhishtira, in fact, had a vow of his own that he would never refuse an invitation for a game of dice. No wonder he ended up losing his entire world, and twice at that. Similarly, Bhimasena had a vow that he would kill the person who calls him moustache-less (which was a symbol of manhood then).
Arjuna tells Krishna that he had to stick to his vow at any cost and hence he would kill Yudhishtira. Krishna tells him that he is making a mistake with such senseless insistence and reminds him of his bigger Dharma – that of winning the war. He tells Arjuna that the right, and only, way to “kill” an elder was to use harsh words and berate the elder. He instructs Arjuna to do the same against Yudhishtira. Arjuna complies and showers his choicest abuses on Yudhishtira. In his outburst, he keeps telling his brother how only Bhimasena has the right to snub him (Arjuna) and not Yudhishtira. He calls Yudhishtira incapable.
Upon completing his outburst, he draws his sword out once again. A seemingly surprised Krishna asks him the reason for this repeat act. Arjuna tells him that he can no longer live after having abused his beloved brother in this manner. Krishna once again counsels him and reminds him that suicide is not appropriate for any human being as the body is the “Kshetra” where the “Sadhana” of the soul can take place. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha can be achieved only by utilizing the body and therefore self-destruction of one’s body is strictly prohibited. Krishna then provides a way out for Arjuna to atone for the sin. He tells him that self-praise is equivalent to suicide and so he should praise himself from the core of his heart.
Arjuna follows Krishna’s advice (once again!) and indulges in heavy self-praise for a while. He goes on about how powerful he is and how many kings and kingdoms were defeated by him. Thus, Arjuna “kills” himself.
At the end, Yudhishtira who is very down because of Arjuna’s abuses proceeds to kill himself. Krishna stops him and explains the whole situation. Arjuna falls at his brother’s feet and begs for pardon. Yudhishtira excuses him and both of them embrace each other.
Thus, Arjuna “kills” Yudhishtira and also commits “suicide” during the war.
Relating this incident and Krishna’s message to our own lives, it is startling that murder and suicide are the two things we repeatedly commit in our lives, almost on a daily basis. Berating elders and self-praise is among the most prevalent habits in society today. We do not even realize the extent of the evil in both these behaviors.