“Sin will overcome us if we slay such aggressors. Therefore it is not proper for us to kill the sons of Dhritarashtra and our friends. What should we gain, O Krishna, husband of the goddess of fortune, and how could we be happy by killing our own kinsmen?” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 1.36)
पापम् एवाश्रयेद् अस्मान्
तस्मान् नार्हा वयं हन्तुं
स्व-जनं हि कथं हत्वा
सुखिनः स्याम माधव
pāpam evāśrayed asmān
tasmān nārhā vayaṁ hantuṁ
sva-janaṁ hi kathaṁ hatvā
sukhinaḥ syāma mādhava
A friend is down on their luck. They are in a difficult situation of the mind; one from which they can’t seem to escape. The sadness and despair carries forward into every moment of the day. They are wondering as to the point of it all. Why go on when the end is guaranteed? Why proceed when others have left this world?
Looking for advice, you recommend the Bhagavad-gita. An authorized translation and commentary of the original Sanskrit work, the words spoken between guru and disciple provide guidance, assurance and clarity for any person seeking the positive direction.
This would be a strange thing to have to cope with. After all, the self-help titles in the bookstore relate to success. How to be positive. How to win in the face of adversity. Implied is the truth that failure is the more common scenario. It is easier, for sure. Just don’t try. Don’t even make an attempt and you will surely fail.
But success is not everything. Time continues. After I win the championship, I need something to do. I may have won every big case in my law firm, but when the time comes to retire, those successes will not help me to deal with the transition to a different kind of life.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna is worried over success. War is an uncertain business. No matter how skilled you are, no matter how many people you have on your side, a few surgical strikes from the opponents and you are significantly wounded.
Arjuna knew that success would mean taking over the kingdom, but of what value was that? He was renounced in spirit, though officially in the kshatriya occupation. His duty was to protect the innocent from injury. He was the best in the world at it, and yet he was bewildered.
Shri Krishna favored moving forward. This was the advice specific to that time, but in the more general sense it is the idea of carrying out prescribed duties with a renounced spirit. At the foundation is attachment to Krishna Himself, who is the founder of righteous principles, dharma.
What if Arjuna should fail? What if he is no longer the best at shooting arrows from a bow? What if the side of adharma, the Kauravas, should win? What if moving forward brings lethal punishment?
सुखिनः क्षत्रियाः पार्थ
लभन्ते युद्धम् ईदृशम्
sukhinaḥ kṣatriyāḥ pārtha
labhante yuddham īdṛśam
“O Partha, happy are the kshatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.32)
Krishna gives the assurance that as long as the prescribed duties are carried out, there is always an auspicious destination. Kshatriyas generally welcome such combat, because it guarantees heaven on both sides. With success, there is the protection against injury; which is in line with duty.
With failure, there is immediate ascension to heaven. The ultimate sacrifice bringing an appropriate reward. This means that even if we fail in our efforts, we are not entirely doomed. As long as Shri Krishna is pleased, then the result is always the same.
I am in this body right now. I took birth at some time in the past. I will have to exit eventually. What do I do now? How should I spend my time? Binge-watch television shows? Drink one intoxicating beverage after another? Work long hours at the office until I am into old age?
Bhagavad-gita gives the advice of prescribed duties. There are generally four divisions for the proper functioning and maintenance of society. Arjuna was in the second division, the royal administrators. It was his duty to fight and without expectation of reward.
The spiritual master in that case was Shri Krishna, and in our situation the representative of Krishna gives guidance on how to proceed. He details the prescribed duties, if we are unable to discern ourselves.
Even if we are already stuck in a previously chosen occupation, there is no need to abandon everything. Working with the renounced spirit, while attached to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, will lead to the same destination as officially renouncing material life and begging for a living, spreading the science of self-realization in the travels.
Bhagavad-gita is ideally suited for dealing with this situation. Someone has passed on. They were with me mere moments ago. Now they have departed, forever. I will never speak to them again. They can no longer communicate with me.
It is a sobering reality, since I am headed for the same destination. So is everyone else around me. What will happen to us? Does the existence cease?
Shri Krishna addresses this topic almost immediately in the discussion with Arjuna. The spirit soul is eternal in its existence. The self-realized person is not bewildered by the changes to the body, which is different from the soul.
देहिनो ऽस्मिन् यथा देहे
कौमारं यौवनं जरा
धीरस् तत्र न मुह्यति
dehino ‘smin yathā dehe
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
I can lament. I can rejoice. I can be indifferent. Regardless of how I view death, it will take place. I will also continue to live, in some capacity, in some place. Arjuna stared kala, eternal time, right in the face. He emerged victorious due to the support of Shri Krishna and His timeless words of wisdom.
Tragic loss having to cope,
Feeling like there’s no hope.
Worthwhile even to try,
Destined for death, so why?
Same on victory’s side spinning,
Of what avail after kingdom winning?
Bhagavad-gita with these issues and more,
The purpose and what living meant for.
Categories: the four