“Alas, how strange it is that we are preparing to commit greatly sinful acts, driven by the desire to enjoy royal happiness.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 1.44)
अहो बत महत् पापं
कर्तुं व्यवसिता वयम्
हन्तुं स्व-जनम् उद्यताः
aho bata mahat pāpaṁ
kartuṁ vyavasitā vayam
hantuṁ sva-janam udyatāḥ
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that while a certain choice in behavior may align with the desires of the population at large, at the same time it might go against the action preferred by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna.
This is the premise, the backdrop, the beginning, if you will, of the sacred text known as Bhagavad-gita, which is essentially a transcript of an historical incident taking place several thousands of years ago. Two opposing armies situated on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the leading warrior for the Pandava side was unsure with how to proceed.
The dilemma translates well to the modern day, or any time period for that matter. There are many instances of supposedly laudatory behavior, wherein the actor receives almost universal praise for their decision. At the same time, there are underlying consequences, contraindications which may be unseen but are severe in the opposing direction.
1. Giving money to the beggar
One person is fully in favor:
“Just see how generous that person is. Whenever they come upon a beggar in public, they are always willing to help. Others pretend not to notice. They ignore the person who is desperately in need. It takes a lot to be willing to part with what you have. A small gesture goes a long way.”
Another person sees the long-term consequences:
“That charity is not beneficial at all. You could have taken the same money and burned it in a fire and produced a more fruitful result. That bum on the street is going to use the money to purchase more alcohol. They will further descend into madness, and the next day their hunger problem will not be solved. Being generous in this case is only encouraging damaging behavior.”
2. Bailing out a failing company
The resolution passes unanimously in the legislature, with political parties coming together:
“We need that company to succeed. They are too big to fail. It is the essence of compassion to try to save those jobs. What is the alternative? Let everyone become unemployed, overnight? This is where irrational adherence to principles and ideology causes so much trouble. Let go of your beliefs for one second, please. Have a heart.”
There are opponents to the legislation, though they are difficult to find:
“Maybe that company was on the verge of bankruptcy for a reason. They have a good or service that people do not want. Perhaps the management is no good; they don’t know how to balance expenses and revenue. By bailing them out, you are not solving the underlying problem. You are punishing those who are successful in business, like the taxpayers and corporations, and rewarding the less capable. Such a formula will not succeed in the long-run; it is a Ponzi scheme.”
3. Passing a new regulation
Along the lines of freebies from the government, people are happy with the new imposition:
“From now on every insurance company has to offer maternity coverage. No more gaps in insurance. This is not something people will have to negotiate anymore. It is the right thing to do. Why did it take so long for Congress to pass this?”
Another side is perplexed:
“What if I don’t want maternity coverage? Why should I have to pay for it? By imposing on the insurance companies to offer this perk, everyone has to pay higher premiums. Biologically, by the laws of nature and science, I can never get pregnant. This would be like forcing all car companies to produce top of the line sports cars, when most people just want a basic vehicle that will get them to where they need to go.”
4. Rushing new medication to market
The long-awaited cure, or so it seems:
“Thank God for this vaccine. We were sheltering in place, otherwise. I realize it might seem extreme to lock myself at home for over a year, but that’s how scary this virus was. Actually, the mortality rate is not that high in comparison to other diseases, but why take the chance? Now we have the vaccine, which was developed in record time. I cannot wait to take it.”
There is also the skeptic:
“What are the long-term side effects? If a new medical treatment has been around for less than a year, how do we know the impact on people after two or three years? How will they respond to other diseases? Will it have an impact on the immune system? Right now the drug companies can be sued for what they bring to market. This is after the rigorous screening process of the government regulators. With these vaccines, however, the drug companies cannot be sued. If something terrible goes wrong, if you have a bad reaction, there is nothing you can do about it. The makers are not held liable.”
5. Declining to fight in a war
This is what Arjuna was contemplating. Giving up the fight. Dropping the weapons. Possibly retreating to the forest. He came up with every excuse he could think of. His favorite one related to a series of reactions instigated by the fight itself.
If the people on the other side would perish in battle, it would damage the associated families. If the families broke apart, so would religious tradition. Without adherence to religion, society eventually turns to the ways of the animal. Arjuna did not want to be party to this mass destruction, as he saw it.
Though he might win universal praise from commentators for following through on this option, it would go against the wishes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Shri Krishna can see every type of consequence to a particular action. He describes how action might actually be inaction, and vice versa, depending on the situation.
कर्मण्य् अकर्म यः पश्येद्
अकर्मणि च कर्म यः
स बुद्धिमान् मनुष्येषु
स युक्तः कृत्स्न-कर्म-कृत्
karmaṇy akarma yaḥ paśyed
akarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ
sa buddhimān manuṣyeṣu
sa yuktaḥ kṛtsna-karma-kṛt
“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)
At the end of the day, the opinion of the Almighty matters most. God plus one equals a majority; always has, always will. Arjuna was fortunate to present his case to Krishna directly, and we are able to follow in the line by approaching a genuine spiritual master, who is steadily linked to Krishna through consciousness.
Despite overtly sinning,
Universal praise winning.
Because of compassion shown,
Not a single objector known.
But against Krishna might be,
Who with longest vision to see.
Where every consequence to consider,
His pleasure only to deliver.
Categories: the five