(For those who don't know the story of Karna, I'll put as brief a summary as I can at the end of the post)
At study group last week we were reading about fate. We think of fate as something done to us, something we have no control over, but Advaita says that fate is the results of our own choices. We cannot effect the past, it is done, but when the past was the present the things we did created our fate. In the present we always have the choice of what to do and we can change our fate for the future. The message is, make good choices now for a happy future. It isn't quite that simple, but that's the basic idea.
There is a Sanskrit saying:
...For yesterday is but a memory
And tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well lived
makes every yesterday a memory
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day....
So, with that in mind, how much choice was there in The Mahabharata? It is a great piece to look at for examining fate because it is all about how can you tell what needs to be done. Every action that happens has an element of fate from the past, but also a choice, and a fate, and a choice, and it keeps going back and back and back so you can't tell which came first.
When Karna finds out that he is the son of Kunti, he has the choice to join the Pandavas or to stay loyal to Duryodhana. He stays where he is and as a result of that choice, he is killed.
Do you think he should have made a different choice? Do you think that he could have? Did he know what he was sacrificing? Was it noble to be loyal to a friend, even when that friend was wrong?
I will make this as brief as I can, so forgive me if I leave out some details. The heroes of The Mahabharata are five brothers called the Pandava because their earthly father was Pandu, but in fact each was fathered by a different God and born to Kunti (and Madri, but I'm going to leave her out). Before Kunti married Pandu, she had used her "gift" to have a child with the sun God and his name was Karna. She was ashamed and abandoned him, he was raised by a chariot driver (a much lower class than what he should have been, as Kunti was a princess and later a queen).
Years later the Pandava brothers are in conflict with their cousins for the kingdom. It rightfully belongs to the Pandavas, although it's a little bit murky. On the side of the cousins, the Kaurava, is Duryodhana. He is selfish and power hungry and unable to see the greater good.
Karna arrives and challenges one of the Pandava brothers, Arjuna, to fight. Karna is rejected because he is a lower class and doesn't know who his real parents are. Duryodhana sweeps in and gives him a small kingdom in order to make him worthy to fight Arjuna. Karna and Duryhodhana become good friends and Karna swears loyalty to him, not knowing that Arjuna is actually his brother.
A war begins over the succession conflict. In the middle of it, Karna is told that he is the eldest Pandava and he could go and join their side and they would welcome him, but Duryodhana is the only one who has been kind to him, so he stays where he is.
He is killed in battle by Arjuna. (His death has some complicated issues also, which I might get into later).