Essays on the Gita

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Now in the case of Arjuna, he was prone towards practicing; whatever he knew to be the right, he wanted to put into practice. But he had this deficiency, you might say, of entering into theoretical consciousness – a consciousness in which one is discusses by reflection, by pros and cons.

Now when I say these words it might seem rather strange because Arjuna was one of the best human beings of his time and therefore to speak of the deficiency of any such character might be misunderstood. So let us say that he was capable of thinking a lot, not that thinking was alien to him, he was even Sattwic in his personality. A Sattwic human being is one who is constantly turned to light and harmony. This is the very definition of Sattwa. Tamas is inclination towards inertia, dullness, mechanical repetition; Rajas is an tendency or a inclination to activity, feverish activity, intense activity, even rash activity, or impulsive activity. But Sattwa always gives a poise of withdrawal from action. You cannot be very Sattwic if you are not able to withdraw from action and stand above action to some degree.

Now to the extent to which Arjuna was Sattwic in his temperament, he was already elevated and every true ethical being is capable of thinking a lot before deciding whether he should do this or that or that. Take  for example to be ethical is to be self–controlled; this is the most elementary thing in any ethical personality. An ethical personality is self controlled. Now you cannot attain to self ­control unless you are able to distinguish between 'your impulses' and `yourself, 'your desires' and `yourself'. Various alternatives before you: one is an alternative of self–indulgence, another not to indulge in something. All these elements are present in Arjuna. But these are all parts of ethical personality, of practical personality. When you speak of theoretical – and when I say that there was a deficiency in Arjuna in this regard, it is only when you  consider a tendency to fly into the realm of ideas, where one can dwell in the realm of ideas for long periods of reflection – you might say purely philosophical temperament.

Let us repeat. As soon as a human being attains to some kind of a rational element, at mental level, some kind of rationality, ethicality, aesthetic elements begin to manifest. So every aesthetic being, every ethical being, every rational being is to some extent rational and therefore he is to that extent a thinker. Every thinker is to some extent a person who really can act and who can also do ethical activities. Every rational being has some kind of an opening to aesthetic sense and pursuit of joy and beauty at a higher level, every one of them and vice versa. So when I say that Arjuna was an ethical being, it does not mean he was not capable of thinking and thinking very widely and very intensely but what I mean to say is that he was not an elevated thinker, a philosopher, a theorist. Now, this can be understood best by those people who have been philosophers, if you have lived a life of a philosopher, you can understand how much you need to think and reflect.  You need years and years to be reflective and  during that period if anybody tries to take you away from thinking to action, you feel a tremendous disturbance.

When Buddha for example left his home, he was in need of deep reflection; the questions that arose in his mind arose in the context of his personality which was extremely wide, highly ethical and highly philosophic. In fact Buddha represents one of the greatest heights of intellectuality. His questions were very deep questions: "What is all this pain and suffering? What is this impermanence? What is illness? What is death?" These were the questions he wanted to decide upon. What he should be doing? That was a subordinate question in his mind. His questions was: "What is the meaning of all this?" So when he left his home, what was predominant in his personality at that time was to discover the truth of life, the meaning of life, the real process by which the world is constituted, in search of something that is permanent. It is that mind which may be called `theoretical', `philosophical', but Buddha was not only `theoretical' or `philosophical', that was also a part of his personality. In other words, in the case of the Buddha, his intellectuality, his ethicality, these two were very prominent; one cannot say that his aesthetical element was very powerful. His main centre of his being was philosophical and ethical. In the case of Arjuna, his ethical  is more predominant.

You might distinguish between the two personalities by asking the following question: `What is true' is the basic question of a philosopher. ‘What is the law by which I can act’  is the fundamental question of the ethical. ‘What is true’ is the basic question of the philosopher.  If you are a philosopher your basic question will be `what is the real truth, truth of existence?', `what is the reality?'. But if you are ethical you will say `What is the law by which I should act?' He is in search of the law of action. And throughout the Bhagavad Gita when you read Arjuna's questions, you will find this predominance in his questioning: "Tell me decisively, what I should do; do not speak to me in a mingled language" – that was his complaint. When Sri Krishna speaks to him of the high principles of the immortality of the soul and the arrival of a consciousness which is samadhistha, when he really becomes state of equilibrium, settled intelligence, he seems to be somewhat impatient, he said, "Please tell me decisively what I should do?" And even after reaching the soul consciousness, "Tell me what is the effect of it in action?" Even his question is, "How does a samadhistha move, how does he walk, how does he talk?" These are his questions. His question is related to what is to be done. He doesn’t ask deeper philosophical questions which arise out of the whole enunciation of Sri Krishna's description of `Reality". He doesn’t say `what is this soul, from where does it come, is there a higher reality than this or what is the truth of the independence of the soul, is the soul independent?". These are very… deeper questions of philosophy, he doesn’t ask these questions at all. He says tell me what is to be done?  But he did not ask them and wanted to know what was to be done. It is `this' that is very remarkable in Arjuna's personality. The capacity to dwell upon pure thought for a long time is a mark of a theoretical personality, reflective personality, philosophical personality, the personality of a seer, personality of a sage.

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