“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)
कुतस् त्वा कश्मलम् इदं
kutas tvā kaśmalam idaṁ
The setting of the famous Bhagavad-gita conversation, in the form passed down to us, is the battlefield of Kurukshetra. You have a leading warrior calling a time-out of sorts, to talk things over with his coach, who happens to be steering the chariot.
Arjuna wants to go the other way. There is hesitation. There is doubt. Perhaps it is better to decline participation. Sure, the timing isn’t great. After suiting up, after arriving at the playing field, after giving every indication of preparedness, he is thinking of quitting.
One way that conversation is beneficial is that it covers challenges from all angles of vision. It is not that Arjuna must submit through dogmatic insistence, peer pressure, or fear. Rather, every argument can be made. Every justification can be put forth. Shri Krishna will have the same answer, that moving forward is the way.
“This world is nothing. You consider the afterlife to be so important, but I am telling you that there is nothing before or after. Better to enjoy right now. You are wasting your time thinking of stuff over which you have no control. Live for the moment. Have no regrets.”
2. Ascension to heaven
“Going to heaven is everything. That is the entire basis upon which difficult decisions are made. Think only of the long-term interest, paramartha. That is the path followed by the wise. We have intelligence for a reason. Let us sacrifice now, for enjoying later on.”
3. Wellbeing of the adversaries
“The opponents may be suffering from ignorance. They know not what they do. Rather than ask some invisible man above the clouds to forgive them, I will take the first step. I will drop my weapons. Whether they appreciate my gesture or not, at least I will be comfortable knowing that I am doing the right thing. My conscience will be clear.”
4. Avoiding tragedy
“Do you know what happens in war? People die. Stuff breaks. Death. Destruction. Why would I want to be a party to that? Why would I want to be primarily responsible for a calamity of epic proportions? At least there should be one sane person. Let me do whatever is necessary to avoid the tragic loss of people who are important to their families.”
5. Pleasing the Almighty
“How could God ever sanction such behavior? How could He ever be pleased with someone who releases arrows with the express purpose of inflicting violent harm? I would think that peace is the way towards transcendence. I would think that nonviolence is a saintly quality, and God most certainly appreciates the saints.”
Arjuna offered similar arguments and more, in an intelligent way. Yet, the first response from Shri Krishna was mockery. He could not believe what Arjuna was saying. There was the subtle insult in describing Arjuna’s words as anarya.
जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्
ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च
तस्माद् अपरिहार्ये ऽर्थे
न त्वं शोचितुम् अर्हसि
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyur
dhruvaṁ janma mṛtasya ca
tasmād aparihārye ‘rthe
na tvaṁ śocitum arhasi
“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)
A wise person can easily dismiss the sophistry to the above described justifications. To begin, there is no avoiding death. Arjuna would not be saving anyone. The destiny of the other side was destruction. Whether Arjuna participated or not, the clock was ticking. Kala would strike at the appropriate moment.
If a person thinks that there is no God and that there is no purpose to action, then there is also no harm in proceeding in a war. There is nothing to be concerned over, since under that line of thinking no one really exists.
For reaching heaven, there is no easier way than sacrificing one’s life on the battlefield. Arjuna and his enemies would benefit in this way. They were kshatriya warriors, after all. The purpose of that occupation is to protect others from injury. Sometimes that protection requires violence.
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)
Tragedy was set to occur. There was already tragedy in the prior aggression of Duryodhana and clan. That is the entire reason for the war. If there hadn’t been a lack of concern for the welfare of the innocent, Arjuna and his brothers would have had no reason to suit up in a military conflict.
माम् एकं शरणं व्रज
अहं त्वां सर्व-पापेभ्यो
मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः
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)
Krishna made it vividly clear that the way to please the Supreme Lord is to follow dharma. Follow occupational duty. Do so with a feeling of renunciation, not being concerned with the outcome. There was the additional confirmation that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There was nothing to fear for Arjuna. Everything would be taken care of.
With Arjuna’s dilemma to face,
With every argument to place.
Whether on atheism bent,
Or over heavenly ascent.
To same conclusion to reach,
That dharma in situation each.
Follow Krishna and worry remove,
Work with attachment to lose.
Categories: the five