Karna – our noble ego

The story of the warrior Karna appears full of sorrow and misfortune. On the path of spirituality, we are concerned with identifying the Karna within our psychic nature; observing and studying this multifaceted character so that our consciousness is slowly freed from his bondage. The life of Karna is rich with events and incidents making it possible for us to study it in our lower psychic nature.

Karna was born out of Kunti’s curiosity. On giving birth to him, she left him adrift in the waters of the river Ganga. In life, we do many things out of curiosity and then leave them adrift, moving on to different tasks; many people practice one type of yoga today and move on to practice something else tomorrow. In doing so, they feel they have done a lot, but really done nothing. Karna symbolises this pattern of curiosity present in all of us. Real practice means to keep on doing the same routine everyday but with a fresh attitude, only then can we achieve our aim.

Karna means ear. Whenever we hear that someone has said something about us, our two ears stand on end and the inner ego immediately sits upright. If we see two people whispering and laughing in a corner, we always feel they are talking about us. Further, most of our knowledge is just information or heard knowledge, which we misuse in logical arguments and justify this by calling it rational thinking. Something in us loves to argue, especially with borrowed knowledge from books and magazines, etc. It is not our own understanding and hence, does not help us in the time of need. Karna, too, could not remember the mantras to invoke the divine weapons when he needed them in the thick of battle.

Karna’s father was Surya or the Sun, but he was brought up in the house of a charioteer. This symbolises that the energy came from a higher source but was reared in a lower one. The energy of the sun flowing through us is the energy by which the five senses work. Jesus calls this energy the light of the body. This energy can follow in two routes.

The first is that of excitement, leading to more and more indulgence. Indulgence destroys the power of the senses to enjoy and we keep looking for something new to bring some excitement in our live. This urge to derive sensual pleasure from every action is one of our deepest habits and binds us to a sentient existence where we are ruled by desire for sensuous pleasure or become Angaraj, another name for Karna. We waste the highest energy of the sun into lower animal-like satisfaction.

The other is the path of sensitivity. Here, we free our senses from becoming slaves of excitement and enjoy whatever we are doing by going deep into the sensitivity of it. We never get bored, for every time we repeat the old sequence, it has a new feeling which is independent of excitement. In excitement, we get bored seeing the same partner everyday. In sensitivity, even though we see the same partner we see something new in him or her everyday.

Another name for Karna was Vaikartan or the one born of suggestibility. We are all victims of suggestibility in one form or another. It could be something which brings pleasure or comfort, money, power, or most important fame. Karna was known to be a great donor or dani. He was hypnotised by his fame as a donor and gave away even his most cherished possessions, such as his kavacha (armour) and kundala (earrings). In life we praise and honour such a person, but on the spiritual path it just strengthens the ego of the donor which in all of us is so subtle and noble-like, it becomes very difficult to dissolve.

Karna’s death is very significant. The wheel of his chariot gets stuck in the wet ground and he leaves his chariot, trying to get the wheel free. It is at this moment (when he is unarmed), that Sri Krishna incites Arjuna to kill him. The subtle ego within us cannot be killed when it is in its own space (chariot). It has to dismount. A person who keeps on using logical arguments cannot be defeated. When working with this aspect of the ego within us called Karna, we have to disarm it first. The wet ground signifies emotions, so the logical minded must first leave the chariot of logic and move to emotion. Here, he has no weapons and can be killed easily.

Karna is known for his friendship with Duryodhana, which represents our self-love; the one that loves to hear its own name and sing its own song. It is never happier then when arguing about how good it is. So self-love and the capacity to support it through arguing are always the best of friends. First, we must free our selves of unnecessary logical arguing and self justification. Then, we can finally kill the self-love within us. That is why Karna must die before Duryodhana.

Once we have freed love from self, then what remains is the pure energy of love; Love is God.