In his argument there are three important strands: one is the argument arising from the sense of duty; the second is the argument arising from the claims of rights; third is the argument arising from the concept of Dharma; and the fourth is the argument arising from the sense of renunciation. These are the four strands in his argument.
First of all: ‘duty’. It is not that Arjuna has forgotten his duty: for every Kshatriya, the duty is to be fighting in the war, whenever there is a war that was the social system in which this particular war takes place. We must make a distinction between ‘duty’ and ‘Dharma’. The duty is an action that is imposed upon you by the position that you occupy in the society: it is the duty of the lawyer to fight for his client; it is the duty of the doctor to save the patient; it is the duty of the soldier to shoot in the army, duty of the teacher to teach. These duties are the results of the social conditions in which you are placed, responsibilities which have been imposed upon you from the point of view of the consequences that you may have with regard to the social relationships and social well-being: if people refuse to do their work, allotted work, the society will be ruined.
Although duty seems to be something to be done for it own sake, ultimately a duty is for sustaining the society, for keeping the society on what is considered to be right as opposed to wrong. Now, this sense of duty is for Arjuna contrasted with a long chain of understanding of his action and the consequences seem to lead to the very denial of the social cohesion. The duties have to be performed in order that the society remains cohesive; but as he points out that if he fights in this particular war, as a duty, then instead of society being kept cohesive, he will lead to the ruin of the society because of the great massacre which will take place and then the whole Dharma will fall, people will not be able to keep to the right path of Dharma: jāyate varṇa-saṅkaraḥ, (I, 41). He says that the entire society will be cursed by unholy alliances and the results will be terrible from the point of the cohesion of the society. The entire Dharma will vanish and then he says that whoever becomes responsible for the destruction of Dharma, for him there is no place except the hell. This is one argument.
The second argument is: “it is true that I am right to fight for the sake of the rights: we have the natural right to the kingdom; this right has been denied by those who are oppressive and those who are arrogant and wicked; it is correct to fight for the rights and therefore I should fight! But what is the use of fighting?”
This is the contrary argument: “what is the use of fighting when this will lead to the massacre of those very people for whom we would like to fight, for the pleasure of whose sake we would like to fight? My brethren will be killed, my teachers will be killed, my grandsires will be killed; it is in company of these people that I would like to enjoy the fruits of our battle, but these are the very people who are going to be killed, therefore this is the fight, the results of which will be full of suffering, sorrow and even sin”. This is the second argument. “Therefore” he says, “I will not fight”.
The third is: ‘Dharma’. As I said, duty arises ‘out of’ the social position in which you are placed. Dharma arises ‘irrespective’ of your social position. As a lawyer, I would like to defend my client: it is my duty; but as a human being my Dharma would be to tell the truth. Therefore the duty and the Dharma would collide. As a judge, as long as the law opts for capitation, for capital punishment, as a judge I would be obliged to give capital punishment to an accused, but as a Dharma, as a human being, I would be opposed to capital punishment. Dharma irrespective of my social position, my Dharma would be quite different. As a doctor, I must save the patient: that is my duty as a doctor. And yet there are conditions in which Dharma will be quite different, depending upon the enemy’s position, my country’s position and many other situations that might arise. The duty and Dharma would collide. My duty in a war would be to shoot my enemy; it would be my duty to save my son and if both the duties collide against each other, if my son is my enemy in the enemy camp, what is my duty towards him, when he is in the enemy camp? What is my Dharma? Is slaughter a Dharma? I may say that slaughter itself is wrong. Even though I am may be a soldier, I am required to kill my own son in the camp of the enemy. I would decide to go out of the entire situation. I would say that Dharma, it is my duty not to kill anybody, I will not kill my son. Not that he is my son. I would conclude on other grounds that it is my Dharma not to kill anybody.