In my previous article, we saw the 5 main topics that Bhagavad Gita deals with. That forms the foundation for understanding the conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Now, let us see why Arjuna loses his composure just before the battle began and what his dilemma was about. This article mainly covers Srimad Bhagavad Gita Chapter 01 – Observing the Armies on the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra. This sets the scene for the Krishna’s response to Arjuna’s questions.
The first chapter of Bhagavad Gita begins with the blind King Dhrtarashtra enquiring to his charioteer, Sanjaya, as to what the Pandavas and his own sons, the Kauravas, did after assembling at the pilgrimage site of Kurukṣetra with the desire to fight. It is significant that the King mentions the holy nature of Kurukṣetra, since he knows Lord Krishna is on the side of the Pandavas, and he was wondering if these factors would influence his sons in to a compromise, which he did not want.
Sanjaya, who was blessed by Sage Vyasadev with divine sight, could view the happenings on the battlefield and narrates them to his King. Sanjaya assures the King that his sons did not ask for any compromise, by terming Duryodhana, the eldest son as ‘Raja’ or ‘King’. Then he describes what Duryodhana speaks to his teacher, Dronacharya. At the end of the talk with Drona, the Grand Sire of the Kuru dynasty, Bhisma blows his conch-shell, signalling the start of the war. His call is drowned by the transcendental sounds of Lord Krishna blowing his own conch-shell, Pancajanya and that of other Pandava warriors.
Then Arjuna, in a chariot with the flag of Hanuman on its spire, with Lord Krishna as his charioteer, takes his bow, looks at the army assembled on the other side and suddenly makes a request.
Bhagavad Gita Chapter 1 verse 21-22
senayor ubhayor madhye
rathaḿ sthāpaya me ‘cyuta
yāvad etān nirīkṣe ‘haḿ
kair mayā saha yoddhavyam
“Arjuna said: O infallible one, please draw my chariot between the two armies so that I may see those present here, who desire to fight, and with whom I must contend in this great trial of arms.”
It is explained that Arjuna was put in to illusion by Krishna at this crucial moment for the benefit of the world, so that Krishna himself can speak out his instructions. Though the Pandavas were dragged in to this Great War by their evil cousins, their assent for the war was based on consultation with many saintly persons and finally with Lord Krishna himself. Arjuna wanted to have a good look at his family members who were assembled against him, but he was overwhelmed by grief at the thought of the deaths that were to ensue. It was the best moment for spiritual instruction. And seeing the great warrior and his transcendental charioteer engaged in a discussion in the middle of the battlefield, the generals of both sides held their ground and watched with respect and curiosity.
From the middle of the battlefield Arjuna saw his grandfathers, fathers, uncles, brothers, friends, teachers, sons, grandsons and well wishers all arrayed on the opposing side. Compassion filled him. His body began quivering, hair stood on its end, mouth dried up, skin felt like burning and his mighty bow, Gandiva, slipped from his grip. Then he addresses the Lord.
He asks of what use are a kingdom, happiness or even life when all those for whom it is desired for are now arrayed on this battlefield. He also says he is not prepared to fight with them even in exchange for the three worlds, let alone this earth.
Then Arjuna begins to substantiate his claims with what he thinks will happen if he goes with the war. He says that “With the destruction of dynasty, the eternal family tradition gets vanquished, and thus the rest of the family becomes involved in irreligion. When irreligion is prominent in the family the women of the family become polluted, and from the degradation of womanhood comes unwanted progeny. An increase of unwanted population certainly causes hellish life both for the family and for those who destroy the family tradition. The ancestors of such corrupt families fall down, because the performances for offering them food and water are entirely stopped. “
Arjuna continues, saying that he has heard by disciplic succession that those who destroy family traditions dwell always in hell and so it is better for him if the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra, weapons in hand, were to kill him unarmed and unresisting on the battlefield. And thus, Arjuna cast aside his bow and arrows, and sat down in the chariot.
It is to be noted that such a compassionate and soft-hearted soul, like Arjuna, is fit to receive self-knowledge. There are a couple of significant points to be noted in Arjuna’s lament. He points out that if the women of a family are not protected and the chastity of women is not maintained, it will bring down the entire family line in which they live in.
Arjuna’s laments hold a lot of relevance in these days, when it has become fashionable to be ‘broad minded’ and ‘progressive’ in every sense. I don’t think this point needs any further elaboration since I believe anyone reading these blogs can understand it clearly.
Arjuna also mentions that he has gained knowledge through a disciplic succession. This is a prime requirement to ensure that the knowledge is passed on unchanged! Imagine there is a mango tree with ripe mangoes at the top. At different heights, on branches, there are people seated and all are relishing the ripe mangoes! How? The person on the topmost part is plucking the mangoes and passing it down carefully. Now, you go to the tree and wish to get some of the mangoes. What do you do? There are several choices. One, you can take some stones and try to hit some of the mangoes and collect them from the ground, in whatever shape they are in after falling through. Or request the person in the lowermost branch for a mango, and he shares what he is getting from the top.
The first case, where you throw stones, is akin to the way people are trying to get scientific knowledge. You may or may not get the mango and even if you do, you will not find the mango intact. The second case, where you get the mango by the mercy of the person on the lowest branch, is akin to the disciplic succession. You get the mango properly and intact. Consider the mangoes to be Knowledge and people in the tree as the guru-disciple line… you get the idea. (Don’t even think of climbing the tree yourself… it indicates time!)
Therefore, one has to stress on the importance of hearing from a bonafide sampradaya or disciplic succession. The specialty in our Vedic system is that nothing is taken for granted. A philosophical theory is not just accepted on whim and wish. It has to be verified by the standard checks and balances, namely acceptance by one’s Guru, other Sadhus and then by the final anchor, Sastra.
Although anyone and everyone can claim to be enlightened, using the flowery words of the Vedas or by putting forth pure speculation as a philosophy, one must enquire about which parampara or sampradaya such a person belongs to… just like you don’t accept any tom, dick and harry to be a doctor or an engineer! Accepting someone as a Guru is no simple task. It is not a sentimental activity involving blind faith. One has to enquire in to the qualifications of such a person, his spiritual background, what is the siddhanta he follows, does he compromise on his philosophy to earn cheap adoration, is the philosophy he advocates or his modifications accepted or endorsed by other bonafide Sadhus and Sastra etc. For that, one must have some basic understanding on who can be considered as a Guru or Acharya.
The fact that the even Lord Krishna in, his Lila, also accepted a Guru, even though he is the fountainhead of all knowledge, demonstrates the importance of a Guru. Krishna also mentions this in Chapter 04, verse 34. As well, Arjuna demonstrates this again in the middle of the battlefield by accepting the Supreme Lord as his Guru.
So, how did Lord Krishna respond to such a grief stricken plea? How did he begin to clear Arjuna’s doubts? These I will address in my next article.