Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita (September 2000, Super School Auroville) - Track 5

That Arjuna the hero he entered the battlefield in a chariot which was driven by Sri Krishna and this entry was very important because of the fact that Arjuna was the principal hero, the one without whom the war would not have been fought at all, such an important personage in the drama. Pandavas were confident of victory or possibility of victory only because there was the presence of Arjuna. The enemies, the Kauravas had only one fear and that was the presence of Arjuna. It is only because they had Karna with them that they had some confidence of victory. So the balance between the two parties was Arjuna on one side and Karna on the other but Karna was not a very big problem for Pandavas because of the fact that when the war started Bhishma was appointed the commander-in-chief of Kauravas. Bhishma who was a grandfather of both the parties, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, both obeyed, loved and admired Bhishma. It is in the lap of Bhishma that Pandavas and Kauravas were brought up. He had showered his love on all of them, given to them the benefit of wisdom at every circumstance. But this Bhishma was appointed commander-in-chief of Kauravas and he stood against the Pandavas because of some very important reasons. He would have liked a complete harmony among all of them but which had failed. He could have said I will not fight at all since all of you are my friends, my sons, my grandsons, but there was a reason we shall see later on.

He was obliged to enter into the war but he made one condition. He said I will lead the army but I shall not kill the Pandavas. He agreed to be the commander-in-chief only on that condition that Duryodhana accepts it that Bhishma will not kill the Pandavas. That means Arjuna will remain alive. And if Arjuna remains alive the most powerful hero had every chance of success and then he made a second condition which was according to them fatal. Karna will not be allowed to come to the battlefield. That means the rival of Arjuna, the equal of Arjuna, even more than equal than Arjuna, he was prevented from entering into the battle. And Duryodhana had accepted both the conditions even though he would not have liked to accept them, but there was no other alternative. There was nobody equal to Bhishma who was at that time quite aged, beyond 100 years, but he had a tremendous power, physical power, mental power, spiritual power. They could not have afforded anybody else as a commander because he was the most senior man. To bring somebody else will be insult to Bhishma. So there was obligation on the part of Kauravas to appoint Bhishma as the commander-in-chief. Therefore now, you can see the importance of Arjuna. He was the principal centre of the whole war, the entire war hinged upon him. Now it is this hero who entered into the battlefield with great confidence, with pride even, he entered as if he was on a holiday, that much of confidence and proudly asked Krishna to place his chariot in the middle of the two armies so that he can have a very good view of all the great warriors with whom he had to fight but when he saw those who are standing against him, particularly when he saw that his own grandfather was standing there and that if he had to win the war he had to kill him, his own teacher, his name also you should learn, Drona, full name of course is known as Dronacharya (acharya means a teacher, name was Drona). Arjuna was his most favourite pupil and it was that teacher who was against, standing against him. There was another called Kripacharya, also a revered teacher, and then there were all the brothers of Duryodhana. They were cousins and their relatives, their friends, some were brothers-in-law, some were sons-in-law, people with whom they have grown up together, friends for whose sake you can sacrifice everything, friends with whom you can share your joy, joy of victory if you became victorious. But they were the very people who had to be slain, to be killed. It is in that condition that suddenly Arjuna was seized with emotions, his mouth began to become dried up. He was overcome by an emotion of self-pity. What a condition! What a tragedy that he had to stand to kill his own people. And immediately he said to Krishna, "I shall not fight" − most disastrous decision that he declared.

This is the main theme of my talk with you. What is it that happened to Arjuna? What were the arguments that came up in his mind? What was the force of those arguments which invited from Krishna an answer, a long answer? In fact, this book, book called The Bhagavad-Gita, the entire episode is the whole book, is mainly the answer of Sri Krishna. It's a long answer as a result of which ultimately Arjuna agreed to fight, became enthusiastic to fight, came back to his self again, greatly inwardly changed but now ready to fight and because of him the Mahabharata war was won by the Pandavas. So what I want you to study is very simple thing. What was the question of Arjuna? What were his arguments? Answer we shall deal with later on but first we must understand the question, the force of the question. Very often the question itself is not understood by most of the people and if you don't understand the question even the answer you can't understand perfectly well. Now I don't know if you have a copy of this book with you. No? No don't have to copy. All right, then I'll have to read out to you this question very slowly. I will first read out the text and then I shall dwell upon it taking up each sentence separately so that the entire question is understood and I will ask you to answer the question. The question which was answered by Sri Krishna, we shall appreciate his answer only when we try to answer the question. So we shall try that as if we don't know the answer of Sri Krishna, and actually you do not know yet. So it is a good condition, living conditions. Supposing these questions were put to you, how would you answer the question? So let me see:

On seeing all these kinsmen thus standing arrayed, the son of Kunti Arjuna overwhelmed with pity spoke thus in sadness and dejection. 

What was that Arjuna said?

Arjuna said: seeing these, my own people O Krishna, thus eager for battle, my limbs fail and my mouth is parched, my body is quivering and my hair stands on end. Gandiva, ( Gandiva is the name of his bow,) Gandiva slips from my hand and my skin seems to be burning. I am not even able to stand and my mind seems to be whirling.

I see, O Keshava, (Keshava is the name of Krishna) I see, O Krishna, adverse omens. 

You know omens are the signs when it rains you say is a very good sign. So:

O Keshava, I see adverse omens, not good omens, not good sign and do not see any good in slaying, in killing my own people in the battle. O Krishna, I desire not victory nor kingdom nor pleasures. What is kingdom to us? O Krishna! And what enjoyment? What even life? Those for whose sake we desire kingdom, enjoyments and pleasures are all standing here in the battle abandoning life and riches. Here are my teachers, fathers, sons, grandsires, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law, as well as other kith and kin. These I would not like to slay though myself slain. 

Let me be killed instead of killing them. 

These I would not like to slay though myself slain even for the kingdom of the three worlds. What is this world? Even if I get the kingdom of three worlds, I would not like to kill my own brothers, how then for this Earth? What pleasure can be ours? O Krishna! On killing these sons of Dhritarashtra. Sin alone would take hold of us in our slaying these hostile aggressors. It is not therefore befitting for us to kill all these sons of Dhritarashtra, our own kinsmen. How can we be happy? O Krishna! Having slain our own people even if these with their consciousness clouded by greed do not see any guilt in the destruction of the family and no crime in hostility to friends. Why should we not have the wisdom to draw back from such a sin? We who see the evil in the destruction of the family, in the annihilation of the family, the Eternal Dharma of the families destroyed with the collapse of Dharma, Adharma, lawlessness, overtakes the whole family when Adharma predominates, O Krishna, the women of the family become corrupt, the women corrupted the confusion of the orders of society arises. This confusion leads to hell, the ruinous of the family and also the family itself deprived of the right of offering, their ancestors fall by these offences of the ruinous of the family leading to the confusion of the order of society, confusion of the eternal laws of Dharma, Dharma of the family. All that is great is destroyed and men whose families Dharma is lost live for an indefinite period in hell. Thus have we heard. Alas, a great sin have we set ourselves to committing, we who are endeavouring to kill our own people from greed of the pleasures of kingship. It is more for my welfare that the sons of Dhritarashtra, armed, should slay me, unarmed and unresisting, in the battle.

This is his argument. 

Having thus spoken on the battlefield, Arjuna sat down on the back seat of the chariot abandoning his bow and arrows, his spirit overwhelmed with grief. 

This is the situation that arose. The argument still continues further with a slight conversation. So I will continue that also. Sri, Krishna then speaks:

O Arjuna, whence has come to thee this rejection in this hour of difficulty and peril? It is not cherished by Aryan man. It leads neither to heaven nor to glory. Yield not to impotence. 

You understand this phrase 'yield not to impotence'? What is the meaning of yield? To give up is called yield. Do not give up yourself, do not consent, do not agree. To yield these, not to agree; I'm sorry: to agree. Yield is to agree, to consent. Yield not, do not agree. Do not agree to impotence. What is impotence? Potence is power. Impotence says lack of power, is weakness. Do not agree to your weakness. Yield not to impotence, do not become weak, remain powerful, remain potent. So yield not to impotence. The entire phrase should be understood very well. Do not give up yourself to weakness; do not agree to take up weakness in your heart. So yield not to impotence. It is not worthy of thee. Shake off this paltry faintheartedness and arise.

Now comes the answer of Arjuna to Krishna which contains the argument further, more explicit, more clear. He says, Arjuna said: 

O Krishna, shall I strike Bhishma and Drona with weapons in battle? both being worthy of worship. Better in this world to live even on alms than to slay these high souled gurus, better to live without food and only taking food from people by begging but to kill my own teachers. For even by slaying these gurus, if I have to kill these gurus, I would be tasting only blood-stained enjoyments of wealth and desire in this world, even if I have to still sit in the palace after conquering them and when food will be served to me I'll feel it is all spittled by blood. There is no pleasure in eating the food which is soiled, which is polluted by blood and I will feel all the time that I am eating by killing my own people. Nor do we know which for us is better. 

For the first time now, he is preparing a question up till now he was only arguing. 

Nor do we know for which, which for us is better that we conquer them or they conquer us. Which is better whether they conquer us or we conquer them. Before us stand Dhritarastrians, sons of Dhritarashtra, whom having slain we would not even care to live. 

Now he makes a confession: 

It is poorness of spirits that has smitten away from me my true nature, my true heroic nature. My whole consciousness is bewildered in this view of right and wrong. I ask Thee,

Now he puts a question, 

I ask Thee: what may be right and good, that tell me decisively. I am thy disciple and seek refuge in thee. Enlighten. I see not what shall thrust from me the sorrow that dries up my senses, even if I should obtain a rich and unrivaled kingdom on Earth or even the sovereignty of the gods. Having thus spoken to Krishna. He said to Krishna, "I will not fight." And he became silent. 

Remember the scene, the two armies are already ready to fight and he's a principal hero and he simply sits down in his chariot saying "I will not fight." 

I have read the whole argument but now I shall go step by step. The argument is rather very complex. It has many strands in the argument. For all students of philosophy, this is a starting point of a philosophical study. The situation itself without the study of philosophy, you can't answer this question. That is why the importance of studying philosophy because in life sometimes such situations are bound to arise. This is called a dilemma whether I should do this or not. It's a word dilemma, you should understand. Dilemma is an argument arising from a situation in which a choice is offered to you, in which there are two alternatives, either you do this or you do that. If you do one thing there will be a consequence which you don't like, if you do the other there will be a consequence which you don't like and there is nothing else which is offered to you. If you do one thing there will be disaster, if you do the other there will be disaster and no other choice is available. Such a situation creates in your mind an argument which is called dilemma. There is a very good expression which you should remember: horns of dilemma. It's a kind of metaphor given to you. Supposing there is a big bull, the bull has two horns. If you turn to (this bull) this horn, it will kill you; if you turn to the (other bull) the other horn, it will kill you. So these are the horns of the dilemma. Both the alternatives are equally disastrous and you are attacked by a bull and there is no (third) third horn, only (two) two horns. This is also called when you are facing the horns of dilemma; it is also called the condition of crisis.