(Edited by Anuj Sharma. Illustrations by Siddhartha Ramanuj)
Duhshasana, Duryodhana’s younger brother, worships the ground Duryodhana walks upon. Duhshasana was the instrument of Duryodhana’s evil intentions, whether trying to poison and drown Bhima, or attempting to kill the Pandava clan in the palace of lac, or the disrobing (vastraharan) of Draupadi. He was the doer to Duryodhana’s desires, and as a consequence, is a much reviled character in the Mahabharata.
Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutra with ‘Atha Yoga Anushasanam’. ‘Shasa’ means a discipline and ‘Anushas’ means to follow a discipline. By extension, ‘shishya’ (or disciple) means one who follows a discipline. The disciple follows the disciplines of regulated sleep, food intake, the regularity of his practices, and in the way he approaches life itself. ‘Duhsh’ means corrupted or impure, therefore Duhshasana implies one whose discipline is impure or corrupted, or the one whose life energies are in total chaos. Once again, the key to the character is revealed in the name itself. How does Duhshasana connect with us in our daily lives? It does, in a most subtle, yet profound and effecting way.
As we go about our day, we perform many activities unconsciously. Yet these actions show our consonance or dissonance with our inner being. One of the most compelling examples of this is our breathing. Our breathing variations clearly reflect our psychological indiscipline, changing with every thought and emotion. If we practice the three-step rhythmic breathing for all twenty-four hours, we will have taken a big step in the transformation from Duhshasana to yoga anushasana.
If our breathing is in an even rhythm, then our life-force or ‘prana’ is in rhythm; the mind is calm and peaceful, we are deeply relaxed and in tune with our original nature. Whatever we do to calm the mind and increase our levels of energy is anushasana, and anything we do that disturbs our energy is Duhshasana.
Yet we continue to allow Duhshasana to rule us; unnecessary emotions like anger and irritation create chaos, trivial disappointments disturb us, we are upset when things do not go our way, we find things to worry about in almost anything, and in our brains we are chattering all the time. All this saps our energies and prana.
If Duryodhana is vanity then Duhshasana is the indiscipline that feeds vanity, convincing Duryodhana that he is always right and others are always wrong. In the Mahabharata, Duhshasana supports Duryodhana at all times; he feeds his vanity with his praises, much the way our inner vanity is fed by our imagination of what we think ourselves to be.
Our undisciplined imagination creates images of us which may be the opposite of who we are, yet our vanity convinces us this image is the right one. We may imagine that we are kind, loving and generous but in reality are exactly the opposite. We may go through life, mildly successful and influential, confident we have arrived, yet this may be a facade. Our falsified perceptions hypnotize us, and we may not be able to break the spell throughout our lives. If someone says something contrary to the picture or image we have of ourselves. We are easily offended and this is the cause of much violence, unhappiness and conflict. Spirituality means to be able to see our true nature for what it is and this is never possible when we have imaginary pictures about ourselves.
The most dramatic and visually forceful scene in the Mahabharata is the disrobing of Draupadi. The popular visualization of the scene is thus: one end of her clothes is in the hand of Duhshasana trying to pull them off. As he pulls off one wrapped layer of garment, on the other side is the hand of Lord Krishna, wrapping her in a new covering.
Draupadi symbolizes sexual energy, the finest and most precious possession of humans. As we mention this, the visualization and significance of the disrobing scene becomes clear. On one hand, this sexual force is in the hands of the divine Lord Krishna, encapsulating us, protecting us. On the other hand, it is in the hands of our own indiscipline and excitement, represented by Duhshasana.
This, then, is the fundamental choice we face in our lives: how we use our inner sexual force, the basic creative energy of life. If we waste it, we are Duhshasana, and if we work on this energy to send it back to its source, who is Lord Krishna, then we assimilate ourselves into our divine nature.
Draupadi is born of fire, and of fire we have two choices: will we be slaves to the flames of passion, or create and sustain the glow of austerity. We must control our slavishness to excitement, and our urge for something new all the time. Instead, we should try to view our world through the eyes of sensitivity. Sensitivity brings joy and will alter our perception of what is enduring and what is not, and also balance and conserve our energies, leading it back to its source. If we are able to kill the Duhshasana within us, our hypnosis breaks, we experience everlasting bliss and wake up in this dream we call life.