Essays on the Gita

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"When Arjuna entered the battlefield his mind was clear and convinced that the claim of the Pandavas to the legal rights was perfectly justified and that his own duty as a warrior and as a soldier was to protect the right, to fight for the right, and to establish the right, even if that meant a battle and a war with those who are protagonists of the illegal and unjust claims. But as he began to view the armies on the battlefield, his mind became filled with sensations and emotions, with thoughts and arguments, with the deliverances of consciences at various levels, sattwic, rajasic, tamasic, he felt a disabling disgust towards material objects, towards action, towards life itself; it is this disgust that Arjuna expressed in short but piercing statements. In the first place he said that he would like to reject that aim of life, which seeks enjoyment and happiness. In other words he rejected what we might call in modern terms the aim of egoistic hedonism."

Egoistic hedonism is a theory which says that you should seek your own pleasure. So he first of all says, "I renounce". Egoistic hedonism is a very low thing. 'To seek one's own pleasure and enjoyment', Oh! no, this I don't want.

Secondly he declared that he would reject the aim which seeks to attain victory and rule and power and government of men. In other words, he rejected what may be called the vital aim of enjoyment that was allowed in the Indian ethos to the Kshatriya.

This was the one enjoyment that you fight the unjust, destroy, establish and then enjoy the kingdom; this enjoyment was allowed to the Kshatriya in the Indian ethos. But he says that even that is a lower aim and I do not want that aim.

Thirdly, he rejected the ethical element that was the main spring of the entire preparation of the war.

Now this ethical element is a very important element of the whole argument. So I am analysing it in detail. His argument could be translated as follows:"What exactly is justice involved in fighting the war that was just to commence?"

The ethical element was that he was fighting for justice; so now he asks the question: what is justice? What exactly is justice involved in fighting the war that was just to commence?

Is it not, he asked, interest of himself, his brothers, and of his party for possession, enjoyment, and rule, what was the injustice in the situation, we are not allowed to rule, and we mean it is only justice that we should be allowed to rule; is that the meaning of justice? I don't want that kind of justice. It is only a selfish kind of a proposition. So he says: what is this justice involved in fighting the war that was just to commence? Is it not, he asked, interest of himself, his brothers, and of his party for possession, enjoyment and rule? Even if he be granted that these aims were justified, he raised by implication the question as to what will be the cost of securing that justice. Would it not mean, he asked, the sacrifice of the right maintenance of social and national life, which in the person of the king of the race, stood before him, opposing him in the battlefield? This is the subtlety of the question. Even if it is allowed by kshatriya dharma to kill the unjust, and even the enjoyment is allowed by the dharma, then he says: what is the price you have to pay for this kind of upholding of dharma? The price you have to pay is the sacrifice of the right maintenance of social and national life. If it was a small thing to be decided, it is alright but here I am going to destroy social and national life, which is represented by my opponents today, because they are also part of the national life. This is one line of his argument, where his ethical element for which he had come, the main sustaining force was the ethical element; very often it is said that Arjuna was so clouded, he forgot his dharma; which is not true. If you analyse the argument, it is not that he has forgotten what is dharma, he had come for dharma to establish justice and right; but now new questions have arisen: if that justice can be established only by paying a price which is so heavy that even the national life is destroyed, then where is the question of that justice.

Now, he turns to another argument: turning to another line of argument, Arjuna seems to feel that even if happiness and life are desirable, they are desirable only if they are shared with all others, particularly with our own people. In modern terminology, Arjuna was referring to the doctrine that seeks to secure maximum happiness, for the maximum number of people. `Even if I destroy these people, the happiness will be only ours'. But the higher ethical doctrine is, that you should have the maximum number of people sharing the maximum amount of happiness, which is a higher principle. But here Arjuna argued by implication: 'our own people are to be slain and who would consent to slay them for the sake of all the earth, or even for the kingdom of three worlds?' At this stage, Arjuna formulates even more fundamental objections; the arguments become even more formidable: he declares that slaughter is a sin, and mutual slaughter is a heinous crime in which there is no right and no justice. And this is a heinous sin when those who are to be slain are objects of love and reverence. So, the argument that Arjuna puts forward is very formidable. The whole idea of justice is now overshadowed by all these considerations. What price do you want to have justice? Formulating these ethical arguments further, he grants that the sons of Dhritarashtra are guilty of grave offences, of sins of greed and selfish passion. But Arjuna argues that they are overpowered by ignorance and they have no sense of guilt; but would it be right he asked in effect, to enter into a sinful act voluntarily, with a clear knowledge that sin is to be committed? Once again, he brings in another ethical consideration; even if a sin is to be committed, and even if that could be justified in one way or the other, how could it be justified, if that leads to the destruction of family morality, social law, law of the nation? Arjuna declares that the family itself will be brought to the point of annihilation: morals will be corrupted, race will be sullied, laws of race, morality, and family will be destroyed and who will be the author of these crimes?

Arjuna means to imply that those in particular who will enter into the war with the knowledge and sense of guilt and of sin. Arjuna then concludes therefore: it is more for my welfare that the sons of Dhritarashtra armed should slay me unarmed and unresisting. I will not fight.

It is not a question of a conflict between dharma and adharma that is a simpler conflict to be resolved..

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