In the beginning of "The Bhagavad-Gita," two groups of opponents prepare for battle. On one side, the one hundred sons of Dhritarashtra stand and on the other side, and the Pandava brothers stand. These soldiers are in the middle of a family feud over the right to govern the land of Kurukshetra.
A soldier named Arjuna, who is the leader of the Pandava armies, prepares to battle as Lord Krishna heads toward the opposition. Just before the battle, Arjuna asks Lord Krishna for advice.
Arjuna is ridden with hesitation and guilt as he faces his family and knows he will have to kill many loved ones to win the battle. Arjuna has set down his weapon and is ready to sacrifice his life. Arjuna approaches Krishna to tell him about his emotions regarding the battle. "Krishna, I seek no victory, or kingship or pleasures" (Miller, 25).
Arjuna does not believe that he has anything to gain from the battle. He does not believe that he can celebrate a victory over his own family simply because he has won personal wealth and glory. "We sought kingships, delights, and pleasures for the sake of those assembled to abandon their lives and fortunes in battle" (Miller, 25).
Arjuna feels that if his family is slaughtered and a sense of family duty is lost, only chaos will remain. He believes that in a state of chaos, society will be in state of disorder. He tells Lord Krishna that the punishment for men who do not adhere to the duties of the family are destined for hell. Basically, Arjuna is asking Krishna which is right: the tie to sacred duty or reason?
My whole body is standing on end, my bow Gandiva is slipping from my hand, and my skin is burning." (Miller, 29) Arjuna questioned his duty as warrior. Out of love for his family, he did not want to fight them.
Lord Krishna begins to coach Arjuna on action, self-knowledge, and discipline. He tells Arjuna about the freedom that can be achieved from the suffering of man once Arjuna finds his devotion to Krishna. Lord Krishna does not answer Arjuna's question immediately. Instead, he lays out the details of the question to make Arjuna think for himself.
According to Lord Krishna, all life on earth is indestructible. "Never have I not existed, nor you, nor these kings; and never in the future shall we cease to exist" (Miller, 31). He does not believe that man can be killed or kill because there is no end to life.
Krishna also tells Arjuna that his emotions are passing and he simply needs endurance to get past them. "If you fail to wage this war of sacred duty, you will abandon your own duty and fame only to gain evil" (Miller, 34).
Lord Krishna talks about dharma, telling Arjuna that he will face greater consequences if he fails to fulfill the duty set before him. "Your own duty done imperfectly is better than another man's done well. It is better to die in one's own duty, another man's duty is perilous" (Miller, 46).
Arjuna argues, "My whole body is standing on end, my bow Gandiva is slipping from my hand, and my skin is burning (Miller, 29)." According to Lord Krishna, if Arjuna does his job poorly, he is still better off than if he does another's job well.
Basically, he is suggesting that even if Arjuna has talents in one area, his assigned duty should be his priority. If he fails to complete his duty, his worldly life would be affected, as well as his spiritual one. He would be slandered by enemies and lose the respect of his people.
Lord Krishna points out that if Arjuna dies in battle, he wins because he goes to heaven. If he is victorious in battle, he wins because he gains the earth. Therefore, says Krishna, Arjuna should not doubt or fear his fate.
Brave one, why this infatuation at this hour! Why have you given yourself to this unmanliness and cowardice? Do not think that by your 'high talk of renunciation and retiring to forest' people would adore you and call you brave and intelligent. On the contrary, for centuries to come the blame would be put on you of running away from the battlefield. Generation after generation, people would laugh at you and make fun of your unmanly flight. (Miller, 48)."
Arjuna's dilemma over his sense of duty to his family and his sacred duty is basically the theme of the Bhagavad-Gita. The point of the book was that everyone faces dilemmas in their everyday life when performing their various duties. Arjuna's dilemma was the greatest of all. He had to choose between fighting the war and killing his family or running away from the battlefield and neglecting his sacred duty.
Lord Krishna completely answers Arjuna's question in this book. He basically advises Arjuna to fight, telling him that it is acceptable to kill his family members since he is doing what he is supposed to do. Since the body is an illusion, Krishna reassures Arjuna that he is not really even killing his kin.
Lord Krishna's role in The Bhagavad Gita is to convince Arjuna that he is on the right path as far as promoting peace and understanding during a devotional life to Krishna.
Krishna's message is confusing at times, as he is stating that devotion is to be lived out at all times, no matter what the situation, while also promoting peace. Still, Krishna clarifies his argument when he points out that in Arjuna's case, violence is being used as a devotional service unto Krishna.
Krishna explains that a devoted follower's love for Krishna can bring great success in any battle. Krishna's advice is obviously not to fight or become a fierce warrior that slaughters the innocent but rather to see Arjuna's battle as one that is of this world and unrelated to the tasks of the other world.
Krishna's words talk sense into Arjuna, as he convinces him that a battle is worth a try, because the soul is eternal anyway. "O son of Kunti, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom. Therefore, get up with determination to fight." (Miller, 37)
Krishna convinces him that going against his family duties is not a sin if it is his duty to kill. Arjuna has the chance to be a real warrior and wipe out as many opponents as possible. He was afraid and even tried to use reason to escape his duty. However, Krishna was determined to get him on the battlefield.
Basically, the overall theme of the Bhagavad-Gita revolves around weighing one's sense of duty of family and sacred duty. At one point, Arjuna asks Krishna to reveal himself to him in his true form, and asks if Krishna thinks he will be able to see it.
This shows great respect and fear, as he doubts his ability to see Krishna. It also sets the stage for Arjuna to be an open book for Krishna to teach him about weighing sacred duty and family duty.
Arjuna trusts Krishna to lead him in the right direction. Krishna advises him in mysterious ways and eventually reveals himself to Arjuna, who is in awe of what he sees. Krishna teaches Arjuna that there are two paths that have to be followed: the path of the family, and the path of sacred duty.
One might argue that Lord Krishna did not properly advise Arjuna, especially if they believe that a wise man would not justify war. Many believe that Krishna should have talked Arjuna out of war.
However, Krishna regarded the battle as righteous war, as it would remedy a greater evil. Therefore, it can be argued that fighting is truly Arjuna's dharma or duty. To run away from the battle would have kept Arjuna from fulfilling his sacred duty, which Krishna placed above family duty.
The ancient Hindus believed that all things are part of God, that souls are reincarnated at death, and that human lives are influenced by karma. Therefore, one's actions in one life determine one's status in the next. The goal is nirvana, release from the cycle of reincarnation to become one with God and leave earth behind.
Lord Krishna advised Arjuna that because the body is an illusion, he is not really even killing his kin. The ancient Hindus firmly held this belief that earth would be left behind when Arjuna was released. According to Krishna: "The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by wind" (Miller, 23)
The Bhagavad Gita discusses the apparent conflict between reason and faith, which applies to the ancient Indian traditions. In the Hindu tradition, reason saves one from avoidable errors and pitfalls, work purifies his heart, meditation creates clarity of mind, love allows…
Sources Used in Document:
Miller, Barbara Stoler, translator. The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna's Counsel in Time of War. New York NY, Bantam Books, 1986.