“The Supreme Person [Bhagavan] said: My dear Arjuna, how have these impurities come upon you? They are not at all befitting a man who knows the progressive values of life. They do not lead to higher planets, but to infamy.” (Bhagavad-gita, 2.2)
Friend1: Let’s get right into it today. You know how some people worry that the message of the Bhagavad-gita can be taken as license for violence?
Friend2: Well, it is license for violence, in certain situations. To say that the Bhagavad-gita preaches nonviolence is ridiculous. That is a form of cheating.
Friend1: Right, but the other side of the argument is that we shouldn’t do harm to people unnecessarily. Better to turn the other cheek.
Friend2: Only if that aligns with your role. If you are entrusted with defending the innocent, you better step up and do your job. To give that up out of bodily attachment is a sign of ignorance, which Krishna tries to destroy with His words of wisdom.
Friend1: I’m glad you mentioned that. How do we know what our role is? For instance, if I am in a community of people practicing Krishna consciousness and someone from the outside starts making threats.
Friend2: Of what? Violence or just words?
Friend1: Let’s say it’s just words. They threaten to expose the leaders. They say they have dirt that will bring everyone down.
Friend1: Then the people from the society decide that something needs to be done. Trusted members start a conspiracy to kill this whistleblower.
Friend2: I like how you are trying to make this generic, when in fact there is a pretty well-known historical example that has the exact same details.
Friend1: Anyway, these people use the Bhagavad-gita to support their plan. They compare themselves to Arjuna fighting against the Kauravas, i.e. good against evil.
Friend2: I see. So you want to know if violence is condoned in situations like these?
Friend2: For starters, the situations are not analogous. Arjuna was fighting in a war. Declared combat. Uniforms. You can identify who is fighting and who isn’t. Conspiracy to murder someone is one of the more obvious sinful acts. It is adharma, or against religious principles.
Friend1: Right, but isn’t bhakti above dharma and adharma? Isn’t it transcendental? Will not a person be free from karma if they are acting for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord?
Friend2: But He hasn’t sanctioned murder. Nowhere do we find Him ever doing something even close to the same. You could criticize Him for attacking Shishupala at the Rajasuya sacrifice of Maharaja Yudhishthira. You could maybe try to say that Ramachandra attacking Vali was adharma. But both those are exceptional cases and the people being attacked had already done horrible things. The Supreme Lord averted a crisis by behaving in an atypical way. Moreover, He is God, so there is no dharma for Him.
Friend1: Isn’t that a convenient excuse, though? Aren’t we supposed to learn from His pastimes?
Friend2: Learn from, but not imitate. He can lift the massive Govardhana Hill. His devotee, Lord Shiva, can swallow poison. Prahlada Maharaja can withstand fire. It doesn’t mean that we will be able to do the same. Getting back to the Bhagavad-gita, if Arjuna had attacked Duryodhana in a cowardly manner, then the situation might be similar. Additionally, Arjuna would have been justified, as Duryodhana had secretly tried to have Arjuna and his brothers killed on multiple occasions.
Friend1: I take it that a murder conspiracy would never fall under bhakti, then?
Friend2: Amazing that you have to ask. There is the case of Ashvatthama, who killed Draupadi’s children in cold blood, while they were sleeping. That’s pretty similar to murdering someone, killing behind their back, going against the law. In general, a person who follows bhakti-yoga turns out to be a perfect gentlemen. If not, then something is awry. Either the spiritual teacher they are following is flawed or they are not adhering to the regulative principles. The moment you hear someone seriously considering doing such heinous things, you should know that they are anything but a devotee of Krishna.
Should not from needless violence refrain,
Or eye for an eye, to enemy the same?
From Bhagavad-gita confusing still,
Since conclusion so much blood to spill.
Idea that when necessary sanction giving,
Protection the role certain class living.
Never to think of murder devotee true,
Compassion to humans and animals too.