According to a narrative in the Mahabharata (Aashwamedhik Parva), the gods, rishis, serpents, and asuras — all visited Lord Brahma some time ago and asked, “Lord, how can we attain our wellbeing?” After listening to their request, Brahma uttered out a single word “Om” from his mouth as his response. The four groups of students accepted this answer to their question, returned to their abodes, and started contemplating on the “lecture.” When the serpents analyzed Brahma’s response, they developed the instinct to bite others. Similarly, when the asuras took their notes out and studied what “Om” conveyed, they developed arrogance. In contrast, the gods interpreted “Om” from Brahma’s mouth as “generosity,” and the rishis recognized the same word as “self-control.”
Though all the four groups of students — serpents, asuras, gods, and rishis — went to the same guru and received exactly the same lesson, they did not learn the same stuff. Differences in their interpretations created different tendencies (and behaviors) in their minds. What does the story teach us? “For a student asking a question, no one is a greater guru than the Supreme Being (antaryami).” As the epic further states, a jiva gets inclined towards each karma only after the Supreme Soul, who resides in his or her heart, approves it.
Even today, whether in the classroom or outside it, we do not learn what our teacher or colleague communicates, but we learn what we want to learn (under the supervision of the guru inside our heart). No matter how much we enjoy chatting with other beings, useful communication in the world hardly occurs between two jivas. It occurs between us (the jiva) and Paramatma, who continuously oversees what we actually grasp from the tons of data that we receive every second and starts personally guiding us as soon as we start looking for him.
When Lord Krishna, in his role as the ambassador of the Pandavas, reaches Hastinapur to ask the Kaurava king to return the part of the kingdom that justly belongs to the Pandavas, it all comes down to getting the proposal accepted by Duryodhana, for the king and all the rational members of his council are powerless. For a second, during the exchange of talks, Krishna even transcends the boundaries of fairness, as mortals understand it, to avoid mass destruction and makes a charming offer to Duryodhana: “You can keep the entire kingdom and allot only five villages; your father has to take care of the Pandavas as well.” While making this promise, Krishna knows that the Pandavas are in his refuge and will happily accept whatever he brings home for them. Krishna does his part in promoting peace and in demonstrating that the Divine gives at least a single chance for self-improvement to even the unrighteous. (This is similar to Lord Hanuman’s lecture to Ravana during his first visit to Lanka in the Ramayana.)
From the perspective of the unethical camp, this is an event where the Lord is offering a big chance — a chance that a shrewd opportunist should never let go of. Duryodhana can keep the kingdom that never belonged to him, happily survive with his immoral brothers and friends, and forget the Pandavas without having to pay for his misdeeds, especially in the same lifetime. In spite of everything, Duryodhana rejects the proposal. The Kauravas fail not only in following dharma but also in identifying their own material profits in Krishna’s final offer.
Why could Duryodhana not accept a proposal laden with material profits? Because he had never learned to receive; he had only developed a habit to seize objects from the truthful. Unless faith in God is present, the jiva cannot pick up anything from the universe, be it goodness or profits, except for negative energy. Unless one cultivates the higher modes of nature (sattva-rajas) within, one will ignore forgiveness and gifts from even the Divine himself and offend him.** This is exactly what Duryodhana does. And Krishna sees the moment as an arena to show his divine form (vishwarupa) to the ones who loved him.
** Highlighting such human tendencies and circulating solutions to them are a part of an incarnation’s divine plan. Krishna later dictates the general theory on why a jiva like Duryodhana can never accept a peace proposal in the Bhagavad Gita.
Towards the end of the Drona Parva, Arjuna asks Ved Vyas, “When I was fighting the enemy forces, I envisioned a divine being who was releasing all the weapons for me. While everyone around assumed that it was me displaying valor, this great being was destroying the opponents; I was only following him. Who was this great personality?” Vyas replies that he had had a vision of Lord Shiva, the Sole Shelter and Universal Soul, Who had been continually walking in front of his chariot and battling his immoral opponents for him.
Similarly, at the conclusion of the war (Shalya Parva), as soon as Lord Krishna and Lord Hanuman exit Arjuna’s chariot, the chariot, along with the horses, instantly catches flames. Finding his chariot turned into ashes, Arjuna questions Krishna about this mysterious event. Krishna explains that his vehicle had already been destroyed by the unyielding missiles of his opponents, but it did not convert into ruins because of His presence on it. Now that He has left it, its actual state is observable.
Wait, if Krishna, Shiva, and Hanuman were battling for Arjuna, what was this jiva doing in the war? He was simply standing – standing with righteousness. This is all Krishna had expected from him while singing his renowned discourse. The rest was a play of the Lord Who always supports His righteous devotees to the ultimate extent. Because Arjuna had become a favorite of the Divine, His love resonated over him repeatedly as blessings of victory from Goddess Durga before the commencement of the battle, as the protection by Shiva and Hanuman, and as Krishna’s role as his chariot-driver, friend, and lifelong guide.