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Karna: How far will you take your misplaced loyalty even if it is for an evil cause?

Updated: Feb 27, 2022


Blog #9

  • Are you a philanthropic person?

  • Do you give donations of time and things to serve the community around you?

  • Are you a secretive philanthropist ?

  • Do you want to establish a highly public charitable foundation as part of your charitable efforts?

  • Would you be generous even when it hurts you to donate?

  • How much generosity is too much?

Mahabharata Context:

The enigmatic Karna is the first son of Queen Kunti and Surya, the Sun God. His complex story begins with his abandonment by his mother, who floats him in a wicker basket down the river to escape public scorn and royal ire. Karna has a troubled childhood and yet grows up as a defiant son of a charioteer for the Hastinapura kingdom. His astonishing good looks, radiant armor, resplendent ear-rings, courage and unparalleled skill as an archer puts him in the spotlight during an archery contest. Anointed as King of Anga by Duryodhana makes Karna indebted to him for life. Karna soon becomes integral to the insurgency and plans to usurp the Hastinapur throne from the heir apparent Yudhistira. Unfortunately for him he becomes a conspirator in chief for this ill-advised venture and soon Karna faces a decisive, final battle with the peerless Prince Arjuna.

Karna was magnificent in his generosity and any gift asked of him after his worship to the Sun would be granted by him unconditionally. He cuts out his own divine armor and ear-rings that make him invulnerable and hands them over to Lord Indra knowing fully well this will cost him his life in the end. His pursuit of knowledge from Sage Parasurama gets jinxed when it is revealed that he is not a brahmin and he is cursed to lose his skills when he needs them most to defend his own life. Karna refuses to take his rightful place as heir apparent when Queen Kunti reveals he is her first born refusing to betray Duryodhana. He promises Queen Kunti not to harm any of her children except his rival Arjuna. He even promises her not to use the potent Nagastra more than once on Arjuna. Karna euthanizes young Abhimanyu to stop the young warrior being tortured by his own Kaurava army drawing the wrath of both sides simultaneously.

Karna defeats his arch-rival Arjuna in battle and yet let's sunset save Arjuna from certain death in an extraordinary act of chivalrous conduct. The next day, Prince Arjuna guided by Krishna, ruthlessly executes weaponless Karna while he is busy extracting his chariot wheel out of the mud. After Karna's demise, Kunti reveals the big secret to her sons that he would have been the heir apparent to the and indeed the next Emperor of Hastinapura. Karna's conscious choice of loyalty to a friend rather than to a crown is one of the exemplary moments of the great epic.

The null hypothesis behind the Karna persona

We are all very complex creatures just like King Karna above but most of us not as gallant or generous perhaps . Qualities like generosity, kindness, loyalty, empathy, selflessness, respect for elders, faith and honor are core to this persona. Did Karna overdo his loyalty to his misguided friend casting himself against Dharma even though it dictates loyalty to those who help you is good Dharma? Did Duryodhana do enough to justify this level of loyalty from Karna? Did his misplaced empathy and love for young Abhimanyu and his decision to euthanize him suffer from bad timing? Is there a limit to generosity and one should stop being generous before we start hurting ourselves in the bargain? Did Karna suffer from depression, anxiety and lack of self-esteem being an abandoned child who knew something was wrong right from his birth?

Lessons learned:

The first right of every human being is self-preservation. We all want to be seen as kind and caring but the hard lesson from this story probably is to strive for a more balanced personality. Generosity sometimes has its limits unless you are Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. Loyalty is not unconditional and needs to be earned by both sides. We all worry about our self worth and sometimes spend a lifetime worrying about what others think of us. Perhaps the best lesson from Karna's story is to be more self-assured and not be fazed by the demons of self-doubt and the critics around us. Lets learn to be happy with who we are everyday ! What % Karna are you?

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