In the opening
chapter of The Bhagavad-Gita, Dhritarashtra, blind king of Kurukshetra, has
asked Sanjaya, his personal writer and charioteer, to narrate the battle in
Kurukshetra. Sanjaya was granted the gift of seeing and hearing all events or
conversations related to the battle and thus becomes the story’s narrator. Dhritarashtra’s
one hundred sons (the Kauravas) and their cousins, the five sons of Pandu (the
Pandavas) are battling over control of the kingdom. Arjuna the leader of the
Pandavas, enters the battlefield and seeing his family, is overcome with doubt,
dejection and despair. Arjuna tells Krishna, his charioteer, that he finds no
“good in killing” his kinsmen. He is unwilling to fight for the kingdom at the
expense of murdering his family. Krishna, as the godly voice of action, duty,
knowledge, order and reason must convince Arjuna to fight. Fighting is the only
way Arjuna will restore good and fulfill his duty as a warrior. Krishna’s
advice comes in the form of the Bhagavad-Gita.
In refusing to
fight, Arjuna questions several aspects of his “warrior ordained duty (dharma)”.
One of the issues in question is the killing of his own kinsmen “teachers, fathers,
sons and grandfathers, uncles, grandsons, fathers and brothers of wives”. What joy
and rewards could this possibly bring? How is this an honorable act? On the
contrary, Arjuna argues that this is a sin that will destroy their entire family,
the ultimate crime of betrayal. It will lead to moral chaos and corruption. He
would not enjoy the throne without his family and friends. Arjuna also questions
the legitimacy of war and how it could lead to peace and order. For Arjuna, war
meant everything that was condemned in the Vedas.
The fulfillment of
one’s own sacred duty is the highest ideal of the Vedas. “There is no being on
Earth free from the triad of qualities that are born of nature.” According to this
principle, Arjuna’s duty as a warrior is to succeed in battle against evil. “Nothing
is better for a warrior than a battle of sacred duty.” If Arjuna fails to fight
this battle, his calling will be unfulfilled and he will “return to the cycle
of death and rebirth”. Unless and until Arjuna
“finds success by focusing on his own action”, he will not attain “the infinite
spirit, the highest state of knowledge”.
After seeing his
family on the battlefield, Arjuna is overcome with dejection and finds “it is
better to beg for scraps of food than to eat meals smeared with the blood”. He found
living as a vagabond for the rest of his life a better alternative to fighting
his own family. The weight of having killed his family would be too great to
bear. Arjuna would rather make peace with the Kauravas. He even considers
reaching God as a man of faith. “When a man has faith, but no ascetic will, and
his mind deviates from discipline, what way is there for him?” However, Krishna
warns him that these alternatives are cowardly and unnatural.
encouragement to Arjuna comes through the teachings of duty (dharma), infinite
spirit (brahman), action (karma), discipline (yoga), knowledge (jñana), devotion
(bhakti) and faith (sraddha). He also shows Arjuna the paths of relinquishment (tyaga)
and renunciation (sannyasa), sacred lore (veda) and sacrifice (yajña). By tying
all of these paths into one, Krishna ultimately shows Arjuna the way to liberation
from worldly suffering (moksa). Essentially, Arjuna’s duty as a warrior to
restore balance and obliterate evil, precedes his duty to protect his family. He
must learn to accept and embody Krishna’s words if he is to “fulfill his
kingship” as the “instrument, the archer”.
“Without faith in
sacred duty, men fail to reach me, Arjuna; they return to the cycle of death
and rebirth”. The key to liberation is for Arjuna to fulfill his dharma and
correct the balance of good and evil. This will be the deepest form of selfless
service. Equally important are the relinquishment of “desire, anger and greed” for
“a man to ascend to the highest way”. Krishna consequently reveals that the battlefield
in Kurukshetra is the place for Arjuna’s salvation.
Krishna’s teachings support
both the Vedic view of supporting the world while also accommodating the
world-denying view. Ultimately, these views complement one another. Krishna
explains to Arjuna how honorable worldly actions could lead an individual to salvation.
Krishna invokes the notion of in urging Arjuna to unify his wisdom, devotion
and desire for liberation from earthly existence. Under this view even the most
mundane of daily activities could lead to salvation, if it were done in the
proper spirit. Hence, there is no necessity for Arjuna to shun all things
attached to the world. Such an attitude would hinder fulfilment of his duty. Thus,
even the carnal and barbaric tendency witnessed in the battleground could be
tapped into and channeled into the spiritual awareness.