Who Was Greater: Arjuna or Karna?


Around 1989 in India TV serial the Mahabharata was broadcast and has had a tremendous success. Now also a TV serial is launched which is fairly successful. Two characters stand out. One is Arjuna and the other Karna. Karna died in the war with Arjuna years later. These two gentlemen left the world and also left behind a legacy of scholars more aggressive than them continuously debating on who is the greater warrior of the two. What were Yoganandaji‘s views on Karna?

—Niraj, India


Dear Niraj,

Paramhansa Yogananda stated that the major characters in the Mahabharata were actual historical figures, so the question of who was the greater warrior is not moot. And it would be interesting to know Yoganandaji’s assessment, given that he said he was, in a former incarnation, Arjuna! However, I am not aware of anything that Yoganandaji may have said about the historical Karna.

In any case, much more meaningful to a devotee are the psycho-spiritual qualities that he said the two characters represent in each one of us: self-control (Arjuna) and attachment (Karna). Attachment is a formidable force, and while self-control is a vital element in overcoming it, self-control alone is not sufficient: we need not only to engage other of our positive qualities—above all devotion to God—but also to ally ourselves with divine grace.

So on an inner level, one could say that attachment is a “greater warrior” than self-control. But that proves nothing about the martial merits of the two historical figures. Such outward comparisons will have to remain a question for spirited—and forever inconclusive—debate.