“Therefore the doubts which have arisen in your heart out of ignorance should be slashed by the weapon of knowledge. Armed with yoga, O Bharata, stand and fight.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.42)
Friend1: The wise should lament neither for the living nor the dead.
Friend2: Quoting the Bhagavad-gita, are we?
Friend1: That’s a pretty profound statement, wouldn’t you say?
Friend2: Absolutely. There is a tendency to lament for both. I like a verse from the Ramayana that says something similar.
Friend1: Yeah? Who is it from?
Friend2: Shri Hanuman.
Friend1: What is the context?
Friend2: The Vanara-king Vali has just died. Tara is now a widow, and she is lamenting the loss of her husband. Hanuman steps in and counsels her about who is actually worthy of lamentation.
“Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?” (Hanuman speaking to Tara,Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)
He compares the body to a bubble.
Friend1: That’s interesting. Big or small?
Friend2: Like the ones you would make as a kid. Or those that form on the surface of the ocean.
Friend1: I see. He’s saying that the bubbles easily break.
Friend2: Exactly. You see them now. They are intact. That doesn’t mean they are secure. The body is the same way. Death is the destiny for everything that is living. There is no need to lament someone else who is in a bubble-like body when I myself am in one.
Friend1: What about lamenting for the dead, though? Shouldn’t we be worried about their future?
Friend2: The soul will live on. That is the context of Krishna’s teaching to Arjuna. The famous bow-warrior and cousin to the Supreme Personality of Godhead was worried about potential victory in an upcoming war. Arjuna was concerned that he would be the instrument of death for people dear to him, who were fighting on the other side.
Friend1: And that is not a legitimate thing to worry over?
Friend2: The idea is that death will come anyway. Not that a person should use this as an excuse to kill indiscriminately. Krishna is not saying be completely without a heart. For a warrior, though, during the heat of battle it is best to not think too much. Just do your duty.
Friend1: Do you see why this is a controversial point, though?
Friend2: What is?
Friend1: Krishna’s urging Arjuna to fight. A religious book where the person purported to be God is essentially promoting violence, not just condoning it.
Friend2: I see. Yeah, the less intelligent certainly are baffled by this.
Friend1: What is the explanation, beyond the concept of duty? I know you’re supposed to carry out your duties, not being attached to the result.
Friend2: There is the verse pertaining to action and inaction.
“One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.18)
The basic premise of the argument you mentioned is that by telling Arjuna to do his duty, which is to act in a war, Krishna is basically inviting violence, mass death or what have you.
Friend1: Yeah. Exactly.
Friend2: Here’s the thing. There is inaction to that action. Though Arjuna is fighting, since he is following dharma, or duty, he is free from the sinful reaction. Moreover, there is action to the inaction on the other side.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: Let’s say that Arjuna doesn’t fight. That is inaction, right?
Friend2: But actually, there is still action. He is shirking his responsibilities. He is allowing the unrighteous to trample over the righteous. It’s like opening the prison and letting the guilty inmates out, free to commit crimes again. Arjuna is capable of defending dharma, but out of attachment to temporary things he is choosing not to act. There is sin in inaction, too. Do you see what I mean?
Friend1: Sort of like if I see someone choking on food and I don’t help them, even if I know how to? Basically, I am somewhat responsible for what happens afterwards. Even though I think I’m safe by not acting, there is some responsibility there. This is why the Bhagavad-gita is so brilliant. It does not rely on mere dogmatic insistence. It challenges the mind of the greatest thinkers. It uncovers the veil that keeps duality otherwise hidden. Right and wrong can switch based on the situation, and so expert guidance is needed to know the virtuous path in life. Arjuna had the greatest expert helping him, Shri Krishna.
Don’t follow illusion’s chartered course,
Stand and fight with no remorse.
This by Shri Krishna urged,
After Arjuna’s ignorance purged.
To the less intelligent wisdom not clear,
Since fighter urged to kill loved ones dear.
As sin in inaction sometimes to be known,
Safest path guidance of Lord alone.