Talking About How Intent Matters

[Arjuna]“For a kshatriya, a military man, shooting arrows at the enemy is considered transcendental, and refraining from such a duty is demoniac. Therefore, there was no cause for Arjuna to lament. Anyone who performs the regulated principles of the different orders of life is transcendentally situated.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 16.5 Purport)

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Friend-One: I was watching a funny episode of Growing Pains the other night.

Friend-Two: Yeah? That’s back on television?

F1: I found it on one of the channels. It must have just come back.

F2: Which episode was this?

F1: The one where Jason’s mom has that new love interest, Wally. Jason, though a psychiatrist by profession, nevertheless succumbs to some of his insecurities. He feels like Wally is replacing his dad, who passed away many years prior.

F2: There were several of those episodes, right? Jason doesn’t like Wally at all. I distinctly remember him going to the kitchen in one episode and talking about succotash.

F1: [laughing] Yeah, it’s him being passive aggressive. Anyway, something in this episode caught my attention. The character of Wally formerly served in the military. Taking this opportunity to make a dig at him, Jason asks Wally if he killed anyone while in service.

F2: Oh man. That’s bad. You’re not supposed to ask military people that.

F1: Exactly. That’s why it was so funny. Anyway, I saw this episode several times when I was a kid and that line never stuck with me. But now it sort of does. It makes you think. What must it be like to kill another human being? I mean isn’t that considered the greatest crime, normally?

F2: It is. It’s an interesting point to study, as the Bhagavad-gita has this issue as the backdrop. The heroic fighter Arjuna doesn’t want to succeed in a war, even though he is not the aggressor. He’s afraid of winning, not losing.

F1: You know, that fact always seems to escape me when reading that book. You hear about the Supreme Controller, the living entities, the material nature, time and karma. The philosophy is so rich that it’s easy to forget the starting point, the setting to the famous conversation between Krishna and Arjuna.

F2: It makes you appreciate Krishna’s genius that much more. The philosophy is that birth and death, happiness and sadness, high and low – these are temporary. The concepts of good and bad, they’re relative. What better way to get this point across than to show how a person can do one of the most horrible things, kill other people, and not have it be wrong. Despite the massive killing, Arjuna and his party were behaving piously.

[Arjuna]F1: Because they were following Krishna, right? Krishna is God. Otherwise there has to be some sin incurred.

F2: Well, the Krishna part is certainly true. But in the general philosophy, the idea is that the action is authorized. It’s sanctioned by a high authority. People kill right now, without any thought of God, and they don’t get punished for it.

F1: Like with military people and police officers. But isn’t what they’re doing wrong? They’ve ended another person’s life.

F2: It’s the intent that matters. This is how the law works. If you’re killing in defense of the innocent, it’s not a violation. If you’re aggressive simply to satisfy your personal desires, then you’re at fault.

F1: I see.

F2: Think of the storefront window. A thief throws a brick into it in order to break it. They do this with the intent of going into the store and stealing. The widespread practice is known as looting, which I’m sure you’ve seen on television.

F1: I have.

[fireman breaking window]F2: Now take the same storefront window in the time of an emergency. If there’s a fire in the building and people are trapped, a fireman will break the window without hesitation. They are doing this to save lives. The intent is different. Though they both performed the same action, the fireman is a hero, whereas the thief is a criminal.

F1: Oh, that’s a good point. So that would work with something like the Rajasuya sacrifice, too? Someone was asking me about that the other day. They were wondering how Yudhishthira Maharaja is any different than say Alexander the Great.

F2: Because the Rajasuya sacrifice involves getting all the neighboring kings to acknowledge your supremacy? And because if they don’t acknowledge, they have to fight and risk being conquered?

F1: Yeah, this person was equating Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers, with tyrants from history who were hungry to expand their empires. I think your point on intent clears things up, though.

F2: Yeah, Yudhishthira is very dear to Krishna. He performed the sacrifice at Krishna’s insistence. There was no desire to expand the kingdom or flex muscles. You need brave fighters in society. Others would simply rather complain about aggressors from the past. They don’t realize that such aggression can only be avoided with a competing display of strength. To display strength means to fight on occasion and win. So Yudhishthira wasn’t doing anything wrong. Neither was Arjuna. The devotees of the Lord are never handcuffed by mundane rules of morality created by the less intelligent.

F1: But what if you’re not a devotee? If you’re fighting to protect people, is that good?

[Shrila Prabhupada]F2: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada says that a person who follows the principles of their respective order in life is transcendentally situated. This pertains to the reactions they get to the work. If you’re a warrior by character and occupation, if you perform the duties of that role, you are not implicated with bad karma. You are making some advancement spiritually. The fastest advancement takes place through pure devotion, but even in following prescribed duties there is a benefit. Again, it’s the intent that matters. The best intent is to work for Krishna under authority of a person who is dear to Him. To want to please God with your work is the best intent to have, and if it is sincere the desire alone will bring success.

In Closing:

Not simply for power to project,

Warrior the innocent to protect.


Reaction dependent on intent,

Whether sinful or in piety bent.


Arjuna principles of order in,

So work on battlefield not incurring sin.


To please Krishna intent the best,

Working for Him, Lord to take care of the rest.

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