Heaven’s Riddles or the Hell Trick

Emily T. Hudson

in Disorienting Dharma

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199860760
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979936 | DOI:

Series: AAR Religions in Translation

Heaven’s Riddles or the Hell Trick

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Chapter 5 analyzes the epic’s treatment of several important themes through considering whether the Mahābhārata provides a rationale for the existence of suffering (i.e., a theodicy). First, this chapter considers the epic’s treatment of both fate (daiva) and human endeavor (puruṣakāra) as potential theodicies by examining their role in the dicing scene. Next the chapter investigates whether karma and Kṛṣṇa provide rationales for the existence of suffering. Finally, this chapter examines the epic’s enigmatic conclusion (when the Pāṇḍavas journey to heaven). It argues that, due to the strategies of ambiguity, not fate, human endeavor, karma, nor Kṛṣṇa provide conclusive answers to the theodicy question. Rather, the epic rejects a “straightforward” approach and addresses the issue in a more dramatic fashion. Through the deployment of the strategies of rupture, proximity, and estrangement in the journey-to-heaven episode, the epic prepares its audiences for its stark revelation of the structure of the world, a revelation that is the epic’s “answer” to the problem of suffering in the world.

Keywords: theodicy; fate; human endeavor; karma; Kṛṣṇa; heaven; hell; narrative strategy; rupture; suffering

Chapter.  16112 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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