We begin with King Dhritarashtra, the blind father of the evil Duryodhana:
Dhritarashtra said: Assembled there on dharma’s field–Kurukshetra–desiring war, what did my sons and the Pandavas, O Sanjaya? (1:1)
The field of the Kurus
The opening words of this verse are dharmakshetre kurukshetre: “the field of dharma, the field of the Kurus.” Dharma means the right way of thought and action, but it can also mean the accurate expression of one’s own dominant character, for dharma also means “quality.” This entire world is a dharmakshetra, a field upon which we act out the character of our inner makeup–i.e., the quality of our emotions, mind, intellect, and will. We as individuals are each a dharmic field, expressing the actuality of our present level of evolution.
How is it, though, that the field of dharma is the field of the Kurus, the enemies of dharma? This is necessary for the portrayal of our present situation here in the world. Not only do negativity and ignorance–the enemies of dharma–dominate society in general, we find within ourselves a welter of negative impulses, conflicts, confusions, fears, and ignorance of all kinds. Yes; we are definitely in–and are–the field of the Kurus, whatever our intentions may be. We are going to have to fight through the whole field and wipe out all the Kurus and most of the Pandavas. Remember, we have lived millions of lives: mineral, plant, animal, and human, and we have brought all the impressions (samskaras) and habits (vasanas) of those lives along with us. Our past is our present. No wonder we are in trouble! But, as Swami Sri Yukteswar often said: “Forget the past. The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.” And the Gita will help us in this effort.
Desiring to fight
Yuyutsavah certainly means “desiring to fight,” but it can also be translated “battle-hungry.” There is deep within us an impulse to divinity, but it has been overlain and overruled by a multitude of impulses to delusion and delusion-produced desires. So they both fight with each other–often on the subconscious level. Both are “battle-hungry” for they are fighting for their very life.
The Mahabharata War is a historical fact, just as are the field of Kuruksheta, Krishna, and Arjuna. Yet Vyasa is using this setting and the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna to give us spiritual teachings, some of which are in symbol. In the real battle many families were represented on both sides, which depicts the inner conflicts of human beings, whether spiritually awakened or not.
The warriors of ignorance and delusion are children of the blind ego (Dhritarashtra), whereas the the inner soldiers of truth and higher consciousness are the children of the Spirit-Self, the divine Atman. The ego is the false self that reigns on the throne of our minds and hearts, blinding us to everything else, making us think that it is the reality of our being–that we are it. But it is a lie. Buried deep within is the real Self, awaiting its liberation and possession of its rightful kingdom. This is why the evil twin/good twin plot always appeals to people; it is symbolic of our dilemma of false self/real Self.
Son of Ego–more of the same
Sanjaya said: King Duryodhana, seeing the Pandava forces ranged ready for battle, approaching his teacher, Drona, spoke these words: (1:2).
Duryodhana is certainly his father in extension, but more dangerous because he can see–that is, he can consciously choose evil if he feels it suits his own ends. (By the way, Dhritarashtra literally means “He by whom the kingdom is held,” and Duryodhana means “dirty fighter.”)
The Bhagavad Gita occurs in the Mahabharata epic only after an immense amount of historical material is given, showing all that led up to the battle. There we see Duryodhana as one of the foulest, most evil figures in recorded history. Many times he attempted to kill the Pandava brothers, whose kingdom he had usurped. He also plotted the death of Krishna several times. He is evil, and Vyasa is going to show this to us by his conversation with Drona, a venerable man who was his teacher, the one who had given him all his education and training as a kshatriya (a member of the warrior-ruling caste). Actually, the whole Gita consists of two conversations: that between Duryodhana and Drona (though it was really a monologue in the style of all egotists) and that between Arjuna and Krishna. Arjuna pleads with Krishna to teach him, but Duryodhana only seeks to set Drona straight and accuse him for also being the teacher of Arjuna who is now facing him as an opponent in battle. So it begins…
Behold, O Teacher, this great army of Pandu’s sons, assembled by Arjuna your brilliant pupil (1:3).
See what I mean? “You got us into this mess” is the meaning. Next he rubs it in by enumerating the great warriors on the Pandava side:
Here are heroes, mighty archers, Bhima and Arjuna’s equals, Yuyudhana and Virata, and Drupada the great car warrior (1:4).
Bhima, one of Arjuna’s brothers, was perhaps the strongest human being that has ever lived. He was all brawn and no brains, but beloved by those who could survive knowing him. He name means “tremendous,” but in the sense of terrifying. All those listed by Duryodhana are maharathas–mighty chariot-warriors (car warriors) who could fight huge numbers of foot-soldiers singlehandedly.
Drishtaketu, Chekitana, and the valiant King of Kashi, Purujit and Kuntibhoja, and Shaibya: the mightiest among men. And courageous Yudhamanyu, and valorous Uttamaujas; the son of Shubhadra and the sons of Draupadi: all great car warriors (1:5-6).
Well, that tells Drona! (Subhadra was Krishna’s sister. “The sons of Draupadi” are the children of the Pandava brothers.) Even though Drona got Duryodhana into this tangle (egotists always take the credit for success, even when it is not due them, but always manage to blame someone else for failure), there is no need for worry.
Those of ours who are indeed distinguished, now know. O highest of the twice-born, the leaders of my army I now recount unto you by name (1:7).
As if Drona would not know all of them very well! This is extremely insulting–as is the way of all bullies. The fact that he speaks of “my army” reveals his egotism. “Twiceborn” was a title referring to the three higher of the four castes, referring to their having undergone a spiritual birth through initiation into the Gayatri mantra and the spiritual rites of Vedic religion.
Your Lordship and Bhishma and Karna and Kripa, victorious in war, Ashwattama and Vikarna, and the son of Somadatta also. And many other heroes, whose lives are risked for my sake, ready to discharge various weapons, all very skilled in battle. (1:8-9).
Yes, all those who serve ego and work to ensure its preservation are certainly risking their lives. It is amazing to see how the world and the ego devour a person, sapping his life, turning him into an aimless husk, and all the while he thinks he is really living the good life. This is the fatal illusion in which humans dwell. Only those who have glimpsed the truth of their inner divinity have a chance at escaping the realm of death.
Bravado, not bravery
Sufficient is that force of ours guarded by Bhishma; insufficient, though, is that force guarded by Bhima. Stationed in your proper places, whatever be your positions, certainly all of you: protect Bhishma (1:10-11).
It is true that the Pandavas were greatly outnumbered by the Kauravas. So naturally, those that see only with the bodily eyes would think that their numbers were inadequate. But throughout history great victories have been won by a few–sometimes even by only one. In the Bible (the seventh chapter of Judges) we find that God kept telling Gideon that he had too many soldiers, and ordering that he pare down their numbers. He did so, and they routed a huge number of soldiers without even fighting! It is foolish to think that numbers make either strength or right. But that is the way of Duryodhana and his kind.
To make Duryodhana happy, the aged Kuru grandsire, Bhishma, bellowing with a tremendous sound of a lion’s roar, then blew his conch with great power, making a tremendous sound. Thereupon the Kurus’ conches and kettledrums and cymbals and trumpets were sounded all at once, producing a tumultuous uproar (1:12-13).
This is nothing new. In many ways bullies and thugs make a lot of noise to intimidate others. And it often works. But not this time.
Then Krishna and Arjuna, standing in the great chariot that was yoked with the white horses, sounded forth their divine conches (1:14).
This is something completely different, not just more of the same. The symbolism here is important. Horses are symbolic of life-force, of prana, of energy/power itself. White horses symbolize the powers of Divine Light. Furthermore, the conches of Krishna and Arjuna were not mere seashells like those of the Kurus, they were divyau–divine instruments of Light.
All that exists is vibration. The sound of the Kurus’ conches represent the vibrations of Maya, of delusion and ignorance, of materiality and ego. But the sound of the Pandava conches represents the divine inner sound of the highest level of consciousness. The sound of the Kurus is intended to make the spirit faint, but the sound of the Pandavas, the vibration of Truth, enlivens, inspires, and strengthens the spirit. The names of the conches are titles of Divine Sound and indicate its powers when invoked by the yogi.
Krishna blew Panchajanya, Arjuna blew Devadatta, and Bhima of ferocious deeds, blew the great conch, Paundra. King Yudhishthira, Kunti’s son, blew on Anantavijaya, Nakula and Sahadeva blew on Sughosha and Manipushpaka (1:15-16).
Panchajanya was the name of an evil enemy defeated by Krishna. Some say he owned the conch that later bore his name, some say that he was a shape-changing demon that lived in the conch (which was under the sea), and others that Krishna made a conch out of his bones. But a great yogi once told me during a conversation in Rishikesh that it is a contracted form of Panchavijaya, which means “Five Victories,” meaning the spiritual victory over the five elements (bhutas) and mastery of the five bodies (koshas) and the five senses.
Devadatta means “God-given,” the key to liberation given by God (Ishwara) himself to human beings.
Paundra, the yogi told me, means mighty sound, or “of a mighty sound.”
Anantavijaya means “unending victory.”
Sughosha also means “making a great noise,” but the yogi said it also means “making a sweet, soothing sound.”
Manipushpaka literally means “jeweled bracelet” or circlet. In verse seven of the seventh chapter we are told that “On me all this universe is strung like jewels on a thread.” But the yogi told me its intended meaning is “mind like a flower,” opened like a lotus at the shining of the light of the Self within. It can also mean “aerial chariot of the mind” opening and flying in the Sky of Consciousness, the Chidakasha.
Whether any of these meanings are correct or intended by Vyasa cannot be known for sure, since Sanskrit also has undergone mutations over time. Anyhow, these are very good speculations, I think.
The other Pandava leaders on the battlefield sounded their conches as well.
And Kashi’s king, the supreme bowman, and the great warrior Shikhandi, and Dhristadyumna and Virata, and the invincible Satyaki, and Drupada and the sons of Draupadi, O Lord of the Earth, and Shubhadra’s son, the mighty-armed, each blew upon his conch(1:17-18).
This is a symbolic picture of the yogi engaged in the interior battle, who has marshalled all his faculties in meditation and united them, causing them to vibrate throughout his being. So the next verse says:
Throughout the sky and the earth resounded the terrific noise which rent asunder the hearts of those in Dhritarashtra’s ranks (1:19).
Divine Light and Divine Sound resound throughout the total being of the yogi, and burst apart the hearts of all the foes of the Self, first rendering them powerless, and then annihilating them.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Taking Stock