Five Important Symbolic Aspects To The Vision Of Arjuna’s Chariot

[Arjuna and Krishna]“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)

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तद् विद्धि प्रणिपातेन
परिप्रश्नेन सेवया
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं
ज्ञानिनस् तत्त्व-दर्शिनः

tad viddhi praṇipātena
paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ

It is both historical and symbolic. This is the magic of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. With His lila in the manifest realm, through His personal appearances as the avatara, He teaches so much. There is both precept and example.

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य
ग्लानिर् भवति भारत
अभ्युत्थानम् अधर्मस्य
तदात्मानं सृजाम्य् अहम्

yadā yadā hi dharmasya
glānir bhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya
tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

The conversation that took place between Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra represents so many timeless aspects of the Vedic tradition. It was a real incident that took place and was documented in the sacred text known as Mahabharata, but the symbolism to highlight key concepts adds another element to appreciate.

1. Taking strength from devotion

The premise of the conversation is weakness. Arjuna is supposed to embody strength. He is a kshatriya. He is a famed bow-warrior. The innocent depend upon him to protect them. The resilience of dharma is based on the presence of fearless leaders willing to defend the principles of righteousness. In more than an exercise in theory, the aggressors wedded to adharma need to be checked.

Unfortunately, Arjuna is unsure of what to do. He has a weakness of resolve. He is afraid to commence hostilities, though the other side returns neither the kindness nor the compassion. They have had no problem harassing, humiliating, and attacking Arjuna and his brothers for years.

Through Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna finds the necessary strength. The source of that strength is the link to the teacher, who is Shri Krishna. Arjuna proceeds through dedication. He offers everything to Krishna. He maintains consciousness through a mood of devotion, and this is what enables him to rise up and do the right thing.

2. Administering justice

When we live in a peaceful condition, it is easy to forget the many sacrifices that others make in order to create that condition. There are bad people in this world. That is simply the landscape, which has never changed. In order to curb the power of the sinful, there has to be an equally potent force that stands in defense.

Arjuna was that force. He was invested with the responsibility to administer justice. Weakness of heart was not going to help anyone during that critical time. The foes were already put to death. Fate had been determined. Arjuna could receive credit through acting as but an instrument in the delivery of destiny.

तस्मात् त्वम् उत्तिष्ठ यशो लभस्व
जित्वा शत्रून् भुङ्क्ष्व राज्यं समृद्धम्
मयैवैते निहताः पूर्वम् एव
निमित्त-मात्रं भव सव्य-साचिन्

tasmāt tvam uttiṣṭha yaśo labhasva
jitvā śatrūn bhuṅkṣva rājyaṁ samṛddham
mayaivaite nihatāḥ pūrvam eva
nimitta-mātraṁ bhava savya-sācin

“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)

3. A disciple approaching a guru

Since we are born into delusion, it is not possible to understand the Absolute Truth through the common methods of observation, experiment, contemplation, and the like. We are limited in the time of observation, and we cannot even realize in truth the basic difference between matter and spirit.

[Krishna and Arjuna]Therefore, we need help. We must approach someone who knows. We must accept information from someone who has seen the truth, a tattva-darshi. In the case of the scene of Arjuna and Krishna on the chariot, a disciple is approaching a guru. There is the proper approach towards someone who knows the Truth. Krishna happens to be that Truth, as He is the adi-guru. He is the original spiritual master of the universe. Krishna is even the teacher of Brahma, the creator.

अहम् एवासम् एवाग्रे
नान्यद् यत् सद्-असत् परम्
पश्चाद् अहं यद् एतच् च
यो ऽवशिष्येत सो ऽस्म्य् अहम्

aham evāsam evāgre
nānyad yat sad-asat param
paścād ahaṁ yad etac ca
yo ‘vaśiṣyeta so ‘smy aham

“Brahma, it is I, the Personality of Godhead, who was existing before the creation, when there was nothing but Myself. Nor was there the material nature, the cause of this creation. That which you see now is also I, the Personality of Godhead, and after annihilation what remains will also be I, the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.33)

4. Following duty with detachment

Arjuna’s hesitancy is based on attachment. He is concerned with the bodily welfare of the participants. He is not thinking matters through. He is not focusing on the long-game. He is trying to find any excuse to not participate in the battle.

Krishna advises Arjuna to follow duty with a spirit of detachment. This is the proper way to go about work. We cannot control outcomes. We think that we can. We think that our choices are the sole determining factor in the effects that we witness, but it is actually nature which must first cooperate.

Arjuna stays on the chariot. He decides to fight in the battle, with Krishna making the necessary turns. Arjuna takes direction, both in life and in the military conflict, from his trusted guide. Arjuna fights vigorously and with short-term interest, while maintaining detachment.

5. Surrendering everything for God

[Arjuna and Krishna]Arjuna is able to maintain detachment because of attachment. He is fully surrendered to Shri Krishna. The image of the two on the chariot is a symbol of the surrendering process. It does not matter how respected a person is. It does not matter how strong they are. We all need help from the Almighty. He will make everything right, provided we accept His shelter.

सर्व-धर्मान् परित्यज्य
माम् एकं शरणं व्रज
अहं त्वां सर्व-पापेभ्यो
मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः

sarva-dharmān parityajya
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)

In Closing:

To make right ready,
From our devotion steady.

But as an instrument to act,
Destiny with future exact.

From guru to be known,
Not enlightened alone.

All lessons through Arjuna’s stance,
With Krishna’s guidance to advance.

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