As the fighting is about to commence on the battlefield of Kurukshetra in the tale of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna begins to advise Arjuna. (This article is taken from The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening.)
Arjuna, overcome with anguish at the prospect of killing in battle those he loved and was obligated to respect, presented to Krishna his reasons for refusing to fight. Hearing the “case” presented by Arjuna:
“To him, the dejected Arjuna, Krishna, smiling, O Dhritarashtra, in the middle between the two armies, spoke these words” (Bhagavad Gita 2:10).
Why a smile?
The smile of Krishna is extremely significant, and we must be grateful to the sage Vyasa for including this detail that carries a momentous message.
Why did Krishna smile, considering how grief-filled Arjuna was, and how impassioned he had been in his insistence that to fight would be the greatest of evils–in contradiction to the urging and advice of Krishna? Arjuna was both sad and rebellious. Yet Krishna smiled.
The word in the Gita is prahasann, which means to smile before laughing. (Sargeant renders it: “beginning to laugh.”) So it is not some weak smile, nor a condescending or sarcastic grimace, but a very positive sign of impending mirth. How is this? Krishna smiled for several reasons.
1. He was showing to Arjuna that he was not condemning him, that his words had in no way offended or angered him, that he could feel confident of Krishna’s love and regard for him.
2. He was showing to Arjuna that he understood his feelings and his reasoning.
3. He was showing to Arjuna that all our little teapot tempests that we exaggerate and make into life-and-earth-shattering concerns and agonies are nothing to cause confusion, anxiety, anger, or grief, but rather are fever-dreams that will vanish the moment we rise to higher consciousness and behold them with the perspective of the divine spirit that is our true nature.
This reminds me of an incident in the life of Sri Anandamayi Ma. A man came to see her, overwhelmed with grief at a recent personal loss. “Ma will understand my suffering,” he said to himself, “She will realize the extent of my sorrow.” But the moment he entered the room, Ma began laughing merrily, looking at him all the while. “Ma!” he protested, “Seeing how unhappy I am, how can you laugh like that?” “Baba,” Ma replied, “there is now one less obstacle between you and God!” I have witnessed similar incidents with Ma in which her laughter instantly healed the sorrow or anxiety of those who came to her for sympathy. Krishna is going to dispel the sadness and bewilderment of Arjuna in the same way.
4. He was showing Arjuna that his words meant nothing–that he was going to fight anyway, because Arjuna’s nature would impel him to do so, whatever he might think he thought. Further, in Krishna’s perspective the battle was over and done; there was no question as to Arjuna’s participation or the outcome: “By me these men are slain already. You but smite the dead” (11:33, 34).
5. He was showing Arjuna that nothing can change the state of Divine Consciousness, that the myth of a Pleased/Displeased God is a foolish fable. God is always God, and we are always ourselves. That is how God sees it–and so should we. Nothing we can say, think, or do can possibly change God in any way. If God could be angered or gladdened by us, He would be as ignorant, changeable, and subject to suffering as we are. In fact, we would have more control over Him than He has over us, as we are continually ignoring Him and being indifferent to Him. Our changeability is a myth, too, for all change takes place only in the delusive wrappings of our unchanging spirit (atma, purusha).
Therefore, no matter what we think we do, God knows we have done nothing. Whatever our antics, God smiles, knowing our eternal destiny within Him.
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