“O Emperor, now I am separated from my friend and dearmost well-wisher, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore my heart appears to be void of everything. In His absence I have been defeated by a number of infidel cowherd men while I was guarding the bodies of all the wives of Krishna.” (Arjuna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.15.20)
सो ’हं नृपेन्द्र रहितः पुरुषोत्तमेन
सख्या प्रियेण सुहृदा हृदयेन शून्यः
अध्वन्य् उरुक्रम-परिग्रहम् अङ्ग रक्षन्
गोपैर् असद्भिर् अबलेव विनिर्जितो ’स्मि
so ’haṁ nṛpendra rahitaḥ puruṣottamena
sakhyā priyeṇa suhṛdā hṛdayena śūnyaḥ
adhvany urukrama-parigraham aṅga rakṣan
gopair asadbhir abaleva vinirjito ’smi
Friend1: We’ve probably discussed this before, but I would like to go into a deeper analysis with a specific example. One of the eye-opening teachings at the beginning of bhakti-yoga instruction, at least for me, is the revelation that good and bad are the same.
Friend2: Explain further, please.
Friend1: Piety and sin. Gain and loss. Wealth and poverty. Really no difference between the two.
Friend2: How are they not different, though? Why would there be separate words if they are both describing the same thing?
Friend1: Hey, that is the teaching. I can’t give you the exact chapter and verse, but I know I heard it. I had similar objections during that time. Let’s focus on one pair, before you continue with your false denial.
Friend1: Victory and defeat. Let’s take the occasion of a war. It could be a single battle, in fact.
Friend2: Alright. We are on a battlefield. That is the setting.
Friend1: You have at least two parties. I understand there is the possibility of what they refer to in professional wrestling as the triple-threat match.
Friend2: Don’t forget the fatal-fourway, haha.
Friend1: Yes, as many participants as you can think of, but there is still the same range of outcomes. Victory or defeat. Winning or losing. In a military conflict, the winning side is still alive. They have suppressed the other side, who either has given up, surrendered through waving the white flag, or been killed.
Friend2: In the fight to the death.
Friend1: Those two situations are completely different. Victory has an entirely separate meaning from defeat. Therefore, how can we say that the two are the same?
Friend2: There are two factors to consider. One is the ultimate result, i.e. when enough time has passed since the culmination of the event. The other is the effect on consciousness.
Friend2: Piety and sin and other pairs representing duality are ultimately the same because there is no difference in situation. If I am pious I ascend to the heavenly realm after death. I cannot stay there forever, though. When the time commensurate with the meritorious credits expires, there is the chance of falling back to earth.
ते तं भुक्त्वा स्वर्ग-लोकं विशालं
क्षीणे पुण्ये मर्त्य-लोकं विशन्ति
एवं त्रयी-धर्मम् अनुप्रपन्ना
गतागतं काम-कामा लभन्ते
te taṁ bhuktvā svarga-lokaṁ viśālaṁ
kṣīṇe puṇye martya-lokaṁ viśanti
evaṁ trayī-dharmam anuprapannā
gatāgataṁ kāma-kāmā labhante
“When they have thus enjoyed heavenly sense pleasure, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus, through the Vedic principles, they achieve only flickering happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.21)
Friend1: It’s the same with sinful life, right?
Friend2: Descend to the hellish realm, suffer punishments commensurate with the crimes, so to speak, and then work your way back up. In the end you reach the same place. That is why those conditions in duality are considered the same.
Friend1: Explain the second factor, consciousness.
Friend2: This is when you are on the spiritual platform. If connected to the Divine in what is known as yoga, then you are the same in victory and defeat. There are two notable examples. One person was never previously defeated. Bhishmadeva was the pitamaha, or the great-father, of an important dynasty. That family happened to divide into sections, i.e. a rivalry was born. There could not be a peaceful resolution, so at last there was war.
Friend1: The Bharata War, between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
Friend2: The one who had never met defeat became filled with arrows as he lay on the battlefield, ready to quit his body. Bhishma was defeated, but the end result was the same for him. He was thinking of Shri Krishna throughout. The consciousness was pure. The outcome may not have been desired, but there was no change in the way he thought.
Friend1: What is the second example?
Friend2: Arjuna, who happened to be the person who defeated Bhishmadeva during that war. Arjuna and his side emerged victorious. They took over the kingdom of Hastinapura. They were favored by Shri Krishna, who in addition to being God the person acted as Arjuna’s charioteer during the war. Years later the same Arjuna met a humiliating defeat. He couldn’t protect Krishna’s many queens from cowherd bandits.
Friend1: That’s right. I forgot about that.
Friend2: Though he was sorry for being defeated, Arjuna’s consciousness was the same. That is to say he thought of Krishna again. He knew that the Divine favor was no longer with him, at least in terms of ability in military conflict. So, there you have it. Victory and defeat. Different in terms of temporary situations but identical in terms of consciousness for the pure devotee.
How from battle victory to gain,
To humiliating defeat the same?
Since different words existing,
Meaning from effect persisting.
Like Arjuna once in triumph to shine,
Later defeated by protectors of kine.
Bhishma dying filled with arrows so,
Still towards highest destination to go.