Primacy of Knowledge in the Synthesis
It is significant for the synthetic character of the teaching of the Gita that even though at the very outset when Arjuna declares, “I will not fight”, and even though Sri Krishna begins his answer by appealing to him to act and to fight, the very first note that is sounded by Sri Krishna in his refutation of the argument of Arjuna is a note concerning the supremacy of knowledge. Sri Krishna points out that although Arjuna’s argument had the appearance of a learned man and possessor of knowledge, the very first premise of knowledge was missing from his argument. Those who have knowledge, says Sri Krishna in effect, have at the root of their argument the knowledge of the self and of the immortality of the self, while in Arjuna’s argument there was a constant refrain of death and of the consequences of killing those who had assembled in the battlefield. The entire argument of Arjuna, both in its root and in its development, was flawed and that the argument would take a completely different turn if it was to be based on true knowledge, knowledge of immortality of the self, and the knowledge of the right place of death in the cycle of development of man and his society, as also the knowledge of the place of work and highest law of work that would follow from the first premise of the stability and permanence of the self and its relationship with the world and with work. The very first part of Sri Krishna’s answer consists of the
distinction between that which is permanent and that which is phenomenal. In fact, Sri Krishna points out: “The soul, not the body is the reality. All these kings of men for whose approaching death thou hast the sorrow, have lived before, they will live again in the human body; for as a soul passes physically through childhood, youth and old age, so it passes on to the changing of the body. The wise man looks beyond the apparent facts of the lives of the body and senses to the real fact of his being and rises beyond the emotional and physical desires of the ignorant nature to the true and only aim of the human existence. The occasion of the war which has been presented to Arjuna can be understood only when that highest aim of human life, individual and collective, can be known.” It is towards that knowledge that Sri Krishna’s answer leads Arjuna from step to step.
Sri Krishna reiterates the affirmations of the Upanishads in regard to immortality, which is not merely the survival of death, but the transcendence of life and death. Finite bodies have an end, but the soul is and cannot cease to be. It is not born nor does it die; it is not slain with the slaying of the body; who can slay the immortal spirit? Weapons cannot cleave it, nor the fire burn nor do the waters drench it nor the wind dry. All are that Self, that One, that Divine, whom we look on and speak and hear of as wonderful beyond our comprehension. One thing only is the truth in which we have to live, namely, the Eternal manifesting itself as the soul of man in the great cycle of its pilgrimage, where all the circumstances of life, happy or unhappy, are to be seen or used as a means of progress, and with immortality as a constant underlying fact and as the home to which the soul
travels as it gradually unfolds and recovers from ignorance its knowledge of its true being, nature and aim.
But should then one live by constant killing? How does this knowledge of the immortal Spirit justify the action demanded of Arjuna and the slaughter at Kurukshetra? The war is a result of the way and degree to which human life has progressed so far and is struggling to attain the aim that is placed before human life. The way in which the world has progressed so far has been continuously a struggle between right and wrong, justice and injustice, the force that protects and the force that violates and oppresses. This process has been brought to the issue of physical strife, and the present stage of human society has not yet discovered a better arrangement than the instrumentality of war for the champion and standard bearer of the Right to ensure that the standard of Right and Justice is not allowed to trail in the dust and be trampled into mire by the bloodstained feat of the oppressor. A day may come, must surely come, Sri Krishna has already declared it by his unceasing effort to avoid the physical strife, when humanity will be ready, – spiritually, morally, socially for the reign of universal peace. But at the present stage, where Arjuna stands in the battlefield, that day has not yet come and the method of physical strife cannot yet be avoided. If humanity has to move forward for the eventual fulfillment of the highest aim of life in which the immortal Spirit will manifest fully, the present stage of physical strife has to be unavoidably accepted for the present, and Arjuna, given his background, his upbringing and his own path towards his own higher development and for the development of the human kind, has to stand out in battle and not permit the sliding back of
the human civilization and allow the oppressor to trample upon the standards of Right and Justice. For the highest good, in that state of human progress, Arjuna must not abstain from battle.9
9 Vide., Ibid., II.16, II.30