“O Krishna, maintainer of the people, I have heard by disciplic succession that those who destroy family traditions dwell always in hell.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 1.43)
The sacred Bhagavad-gita is known for the profound, eye-opening truths presented by the acknowledged teacher, Shri Krishna. Within the work itself we get the history of the knowledge, as Krishna explains that the sun-god heard first and then passed it on to saintly kings in what is known as a succession of disciples, or parampara.
“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.2)
It wasn’t Krishna talking alone, however. There was question and answer, the way sessions typically go between guru and disciple. Though mildly admonished for not behaving according to one who knows the progressive values of life, Arjuna’s questions were actually rooted in intelligence.
Part of being smart is seeing into the future. A great war was about to commence, and Arjuna foresaw many consequences. The young child thinks only of preyas, or immediate satisfaction. It takes maturity through instruction and experience to see the bigger picture, shreyas. Arjuna saw the long-term effects and based his questions on them.
1. Victory in battle
This day was a long time coming. Wars don’t break out spontaneously. In a material existence conflict is sure to be there. This is the result of the clashing of kama, or lust. When lust goes unsatisfied, there is wrath, anger, and loss of intelligence.
In this situation kama got the better of a prince named Duryodhana. Dharma, or righteousness, stipulated that Arjuna and his brothers be in charge of the kingdom. But Duryodhana wanted it for himself, and he didn’t care if he had to take it illegally.
Arjuna, his four brothers and their mother – commonly referred to as the Pandavas – tolerated the injustice for a long time. To add insult to injury, Duryodhana tried to have them killed on several occasions. The Pandavas survived through good fortune, which was actually the protecting hand of Shri Krishna, who was their well-wisher from the start.
War was the last resort, but when the decision was made all hands were on deck. Everyone was prepared to fight, as the families were of the kshatriya, or royal, order. Krishna kindly agreed to be Arjuna’s charioteer, and before the war began the leading fighter saw into the future. Arjuna saw victory. The outcomes to action are never assured, but Arjuna knew that winning was very likely, even with the highly capable fighters on the other side.
2. Enjoying the kingdom alone
The ugly truth is that success in a war involves killing people and breaking things. If victory was in the cards, then likely everyone on the other side would die. Winning would bring the kingdom back to the rightful owners, but Arjuna saw that as enjoying alone. There were some good people on the other side. Drona was the family’s teacher. Bhishmadeva cared about everyone. He was just as devoted to Shri Krishna. Arjuna had no desire to enjoy material comforts without them.
The literal translation to this Sanskrit term is “mixing of the occupations.” It is something like a priest getting married to a servant or a warrior joining with the daughter of a businessman. Varna means “color” or “designation.” In the system of varnashrama-dharma it is an occupation. The four occupations are based on guna and karma, which are material qualities and work.
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)
In Vedic culture marriages are based on dharma, and one aspect to that is keeping the occupations together. Varna-sankara equates to unwanted population because the root cause is kama, or sense gratification. Arjuna saw this as a real possibility, since so many from the other side would be destroyed. How would the family lineage continue? How would the women be protected? They would be forced to become victims to illicit sex, which would then lead to the unwanted progeny.
4. The population going to hell
Arjuna continued with the slippery slope argument, seeing the population descending into irreligion. With unwanted children, family traditions die. Without maintaining traditions in dharma, man slowly becomes more like the animal, who has no culture. Without some culture the population quickly descends into madness and chaos. This is what Arjuna saw happening in the future.
5. Sinful reaction for killing family members
It was dharma to uphold righteousness, to protect property and to punish aggressors, but there was killing involved. To some degree that had to be sinful, no? Arjuna saw negative consequences in the future for being involved in violence on such a grand scale.
The vision of the ghastly future is the pretext for Arjuna’s doubt and his putting the matter before Shri Krishna, who is the adi-guru. The doubt was rooted in intelligence, but the expert teacher also explained the other potential future, i.e. what would happen if Arjuna refused to fight. He would lose his fame and reputation, for quitting is the worst thing a kshatriya can do. The other side would perish anyway, since that is the nature of time. Krishna had arranged everything so that the earth overburdened by a sinful population would get some relief.
“Therefore get up and prepare to fight. After conquering your enemies you will enjoy a flourishing kingdom. They are already put to death by My arrangement, and you, O Savyasachin, can be but an instrument in the fight.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.33)
Whether Arjuna liked it or not, destiny was set. By choosing to go forward in the conflict, staying devoted to Krishna throughout, he would get to act as an instrument of the Divine will. This is valuable information applicable to every person. The individual makes the decision to act, but the results only manifest through the cooperation of the three modes of nature, which are ultimately handled by the Supreme Lord in His role as Supersoul.
The real future over which to be concerned is the individual’s fate when still consumed by kama. When desire turns into devotion, or bhakti, the best future is guaranteed. There will be continued service in devotion, known as bhakti-yoga, which means everything will work out eventually. The highs and lows of a material existence then become an afterthought.
If arrows with skill from bow freeing,
Future consequences Arjuna seeing.
To perish family from long time known,
Left to enjoy fruits of kingdom alone.
Unprotected, to illicit sex taking,
Traditions of family then breaking.
But will of Divine, outcome already set,
Act in devotion, dharma’s credit to get.
Categories: the five