By Madhumita Prabhakar
Let me tell you a story from the Mahabharata, one of the most famous classical Indian epics.
At the beginning of this story, five princes, known as the Pandava, have been banished from their kingdom for 13 long years. These princes–Yudhishtira, Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva–are living in a forest, surviving on a meager living. They’ve been banished because Yudhishtira, although righteous, wise, and knowledgeable, also has a weakness for gambling, and in a game of dice with the Kauravas, another brotherhood of princes, has lost his kingdom and wealth.
Yudhishtira’s brothers and his wife are enraged. They seek justice for the injustice meted out to them by the Kauravas. But Yudhishtira calms them, reminding them that he lost the game fair and square.
One night, when everyone is asleep, Yudhishtira wakes up in torment. Although he’s managed to help his brothers and wife feel peaceful about their fate, he still feels a deep conflict within himself.
He goes out to seek solace from a Rishi, an enlightened saint, living nearby.
“Oh great Rishi,” he says to him, “I was once the Supreme King of this country! I was powerful! I have ruled my land fairly and righteously., but look what has happened to me now. Why is this happening only to me? What have I done to deserve this?”
Isn’t this familiar?
While Yudhishtira is conflicted over the loss of his kingdom, we, too, face conflicts both big and small that leave us thinking “why me? What should I do?” We reprimand ourselves, too: “If only I had done this or that, it would have made a difference.”
For example, a hardworking employee who’s up for a promotion but didn’t get it might think, “if only I’d made a better impression on my manager, I would have gotten it.” A student who didn’t get accepted into an Ivy League University might think, “if only I’d performed better in the interview, I would have gotten in.” Even when we lose a loved one to an illness, we might think “if only I’d paid more attention to their treatment, if only we’d sought a second or third opinion, this might not have happened.”