We begin with King Dhritarashtra, the blind father of the evil Duryodhana:
“Dhritarashtra said: When they were in the field of dharma, in the field of the Kurus, assembled together, desiring to fight, what did my army and that of the sons of Pandu do, 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 according to 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. So they both fight with each other–often on the subconscious level. Both are “battle-hungry” for they are fighting for their very life. In the seventh chapter of his epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul describes the pain and frustration that is felt when this inner battle is seen for what it is.
“We know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:14-24). This is a terrible picture, one that is filled with delusion–delusion that many Bible readers assume Saint Paul is presenting as the way things are. Therefore many become very pessimistic about themselves and others, but they mistake Saint Paul’s intention. His purpose is to present the way things look to an enslaved mind, not the way they really are or shall be.
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. Now in the real battle many families were represented on both sides, which is why Sargeant translates Dhritarashtra speaking of “my army and that of the sons of Pandu,” but Vyasa has in the Sanskrit: “my and Pandu’s sons,” indicating that all the Kuru army were his sons, and all those on the Pandava side were sons of Pandu. The purpose of this is to show that all 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 succeeds; it is symbolic of our dilemma of “false self/real Self.”
Son of Ego–more of the same
“Sanjaya said: Seeing indeed the army of the sons of Pandu arrayed, King Duryodhana, approaching his teacher [acharya], 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 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 Master, this great army of the sons of Pandu arrayed by the son of Drupada [Arjuna], wise by your instruction” (1:3).
See what I mean? “You got us into this mess” is the meaning.
Now he rubs it in by enumerating the great warriors on the Pandava side:
“Here are heroes, mighty archers, equal in battle to Bhima and Arjuna, Yuyudhana and Virata, and Drupada, the great 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 who could fight huge numbers of foot-soldiers singlehandedly.
“Dhrishtaketu, Chekitana, and the valorous king of Kashi [Varanasi/Benares], Purojit and Kuntibhoja and Shaibya, bull among men. And mighty Yudhamanyu and valorous Uttamaujas; the son of Subhadra and the sons of Draupadi, all indeed great warriors” (1:5, 6).
Well, that tells Drona! (Subhadra was Krishna’s sister. “The sons of Draupadi” are the Pandava brothers, including Arjuna.)
Even though Drona got Duryodhana into this tangle (egotists always take the credit for success, even when it is not due them, but they always manage to blame someone else for failure), there is no need for worry. “Those of ours who are indeed distinguished, know them! O highest of the twiceborn, the leaders of my army I name for you by proper names” (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, always victorious in battle, Ashwatthama and Vikarna and the son of Somadatta also; and many other heroes whose lives are risked for my sake, attacking with various weapons, all 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 their life, turning them into aimless husks, and all the while they think they are “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 guided by Bhishma; insufficient though is the force guarded by Bhima. And in all movements, stationed each in his respective place, all of you, indeed, 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 one by a few–sometimes even by only one. In the Bible (the sixth and seventh chapters 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 enemy 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.
“Making him [Duryodhana] happy, the aged Kuru [Bhishma], his grandsire, roaring like a lion, blew his conch horn powerfully. And thereupon the conch horns and the kettledrums, the cymbals, drums and trumpets all at once were sounded. The uproar was tremendous” (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, standing in the great chariot yoked with white horses, Krishna and Arjuna sounded forth their divine conch horns” (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 sound of Om intoned by the yogi. The sound of the Kurus is intended to make the spirit faint, but the sound of the Pandavas, the vibration of Om, enlivens, inspires, and strengthens. The names of the conches are titles of the Om mantra and indicate its powers when invoked by the yogi.
“Krishna blew his Panchajanya; Arjuna blew Devadatta, While Bhima, terrible in action, blew the great conch horn Paundra. King Yudhishthira, Son of Kunti, blew Anantavijaya; Nakula and Sahadeva blew 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,” the meaning being that Om brings spiritual victory over the five elements (bhutas) and mastery of the five bodies (koshas). Devadatta means “God-given,” since Om is 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,” Om being the supreme Word of Power. Anantavijaya means “unending victory,” the effect of the japa and meditation of Om. Sughosha also means “making a great noise,” but the yogi said it also means “making a sweet, soothing sound”–an experience the Om Yogi can attest to. 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.” The divine consciousness invoked through Om is the inner thread on which all existence is strung. But the yogi told me its intended meaning is “mind like a flower,” opened like a lotus at the shining of the light of Om within. It can also mean “aerial chariot of the mind,” because Om causes the mind to open up in and fly in the Sky of Consciousness, the Chidakasha. (See Om Yoga Meditation regarding this.) Whether any of these meanings are correct or intended by Vyasa cannot be known for sure, since Sanskrit also has undergone mutations over time, but these are very appropriate speculations, I think.
Since Om is the primal meditation mantra of yogis, the other Pandava leaders on the battlefield sounded their conches as well.
“And the King of Kashi, supreme archer, and Shikhandi, that great warrior, Dhrishtadyumna and Virata and Satyaki, the invincible; Drupada and the sons of Draupadi all together, O Lord of the Earth, and the strong-armed son of Subhadra blew their conch horns, each his own” (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 in the constant invocation of Om, causing it to vibrate throughout his being. So the next verse says:
“The sound burst asunder the hearts of the sons of Dhritarashtra, and the tumult caused the sky and the earth to resound” (1:19).
By its continual intonation Om resounds throughout the “sky” and “earth” of the yogi, and bursts apart the hearts of all the foes of the Self, for the consciousness arising from its invocation first renders them powerless, and then annihilates them.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Taking Stock
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
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Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.
Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary