Let us state the argument of Arjuna: “I do not see any good by slaying my own people in the fight. O Krishna! I do not long for victory, nor kingdom, nor pleasures. O Govinda! Of what use is kingdom to us, or enjoyments, or even life? Those for whose sake we desire to gain kingdom, enjoyments and pleasures, they are arrayed in battle, not caring for their lives and riches…; even if they kill me, I do not want to kill them, even for the kingdom of the three worlds, – what then to speak of gaining this earth? What pleasures can be ours after we have killed the sons of Dhritarashtra? Sin will only accrue to us if we kill these evil ones. Even if they, whose minds are overpowered by greed, see no wrong in destruction of families and no crime in treachery to friends, why should we not have wisdom to refrain from this sin, – we who see the wrong in the destruction of the family? With the destruction of the families, the eternal family tradition of dharma is destroyed: with the destruction of dharma, the entire society is overcome by adharma, unrighteousness. When society is overcome by unrighteousness, the women of our entire tradition become impure. And as a result, perverse progeny is produced…. Those who destroy the dharma of the tradition will be responsible for the ruin of the race, the collapse of its high traditions and ethical degradation; hell for the authors of such a crime. Therefore, it is more for my
welfare that the sons of Dhritarashtra armed should slay me unarmed and unresisting. I will not fight.” (I,32-46)
If we analyze this argument, we shall find the following steps:
In the first place, Arjuna argued that he would like to reject that aim of life which seeks enjoyment and happiness, or, in other words, the hedonistic aim;
Secondly, he declared that he would reject the aim which seeks to attain victory and rule and power and government of men, – the aim that was prescribed in Indian dharma for the kshatriya, the man of power and action.
Thirdly, he rejected the ethical element that was the main spring of the entire preparation for the war. The arguments in this connection could be summarized as follows:
(a) What exactly is “justice” involved in fighting the war that was about to commence? Was it not, he asked, interest of himself, his brothers, and his party for possession, enjoyment and rule? And even if it be granted that these aims were justified, he raised the question as to what would be the means of securing that justice. Would it not mean, he asked, the sacrifice of right maintenance of social and national life which in person of the kin of race stood before him opposing him in the battlefield?
(b) Turning to another line of argument, Arjuna felt that even if happiness and life were desirable, they were so only if they were shared with all others, particularly with “our own people”. But here Arjuna argued, “our own people” are to be slain, and who would consent to slay
them for the sake of all the earth and even for the kingdom of the three worlds?
(c) At this stage, Arjuna formulated even a more fundamental objection. He declared that slaughter is a heinous crime, in which there is no right and no justice. And further, the sin became graver when those who were to be slain were objects of love and reverence.
(d) Formulating this ethical argument, Arjuna conceded that the sons of Dhritarashtra were guilty of great offences, of sins of greed, and selfish passion, but he argued that they were overpowered by ignorance and they had no sense of guilt. On the other hand, would it be right, he asked in effect, to enter into sinful act voluntarily with a clear knowledge that sin was to be committed?
(e) Once again, Arjuna brought in another ethical consideration. Even if a sin was to be committed and even if that could be justified because that was inevitable in the performance of the dharma of the kshatriya, how could it be justified if that leads to the destruction of family morality, social law, law of the nation? Arjuna declared that family itself could be corrupted, race would be sullied, law of race, morality, and family would be destroyed. And who would be responsible for these crimes? Indeed, those, in particular, who would enter into the war with a knowledge and sense of guilt and sin.
These arguments led Arjuna to declare that he would not fight.
But even though he was categorical in his declaration,
he betrayed, in response to a remark of disapproval from Sri Krishna, not only his indecisiveness but a complete bankruptcy of all his views and all the notions of the right and the good and the duty and dharma which were till that time the foundations of the guidelines of his life. He asked Sri Krishna: “Tell me, how shall I attack with arrows the most venerable Bhishma, the grandfathers, and guru Dronacharya in the battlefield? It is better to live in this world by begging rather than killing the most venerable elders. Even if I kill these elders for worldly gains, all my enjoyments would be smeared with their blood. We are not sure who is stronger amongst us and who will win the war. Moreover, the sons of Dhritarashtra are arrayed against us, after killing whom we ourselves would not like to live any longer. I am confused about my dharma owing to the lapse of the grain of my nature. Therefore, I ask you to tell me what is certainly the best for me. I am your disciple, I have taken refuge in you. Do instruct me. Even if I were to attain undisputed sovereignty over the whole world and conquer even the gods, I do not see how I could remedy this grief which is consuming my senses.”
Once again, Arjuna said, “O Krishna! I shall not fight.” And he became silent.
The current standards of conduct were found by Arjuna in a hideous chaos where they were in violent conflict with each other and with themselves. No moral standing ground was left, nothing to lay hold of and walk by any dharma, – the law, the norm, the rule of nature, action and life. And for a moral agent like Arjuna, whose very soul was that of action, this can be regarded as a worst possible crisis, failure and overthrow.