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Taking Stock

Part 3 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening cover
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Then seeing Dhritarashtra’s ranks drawn up in battle array for the forthcoming clash of weapons, Arjuna took up his bow, and said unto Krishna: O Lord of the earth, drive my chariot to stand in the midst between the two armies, until I can behold these battle-hungry men arrayed here with whom I must fight in this conflict. I would behold those who are about to give battle, having assembled here wishing to do service in warfare for the evil-minded son of Dhritarashtra. Thus addressed by Arjuna, Krishna brought the chief chariot to stand in the midst of the two armies. Thus facing Bhishma, Drona, and all the rulers of the earth, Krishna said: Behold, Arjuna, these Kurus assembled here. (1:20-25).

Authentic, traditional yoga is very serious and circumspect, and the intelligent yogi believes in the old adage: Look Before You Leap. Jesus put it this way: “Which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:28-31). Vyasa felt the same way.

There is an interesting detail here. Sanjaya, the narrator of the Gita, calls Dhritarashtra “Lord of the Earth,” and Arjuna gives Krishna the same title–at least in the English translation. But in Sanskrit two different words are used. Sanjaya calls Dhritarashtra Prithivipate: Lord of the Earth, of prithvi, the earth element, the principle of non-sentient material existence. Krishna, though, is called Mahipate: Lord of the Earth (mahi) in the sense of the intelligent world of sentient beings. It is the difference between marble and a marble statue. One is mere matter, the other an expression of intelligence and artistry–even genius.

What Arjuna saw

Arjuna saw standing there fathers, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons as well as friends, fathers-in-law and companions in the two armies. In both of them he saw all who were relatives arrayed. Then filled with profound pity, desponding, he said:

O Krishna, seeing my own people standing near, desiring to fight, my limbs sink down, my mouth dries up, my body trembles, and my hair stands on end. My bow drops from my hand, my skin is burning, I am unable to stand; my mind is reeling.

Inauspicious omens I mark, and not good fortune do I foresee, if I should kill my own kinsmen in war. I do not desire victory, nor kingship and pleasures. What is kingship to us? What are enjoyments or even life? Those for whose sake we should desire kingship, enjoyments and pleasures, are arrayed in battle, abandoning their lives and riches: Teachers, fathers, sons, grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law, and other kinsmen, too. I do not desire to kill them who are about to kill–not even for the sovereignty of the three worlds; how then for the earth? What pleasure could the striking down of Dhritarashtra’s sons be to us? Having killed these aggressors, evil would thus cling to us.

Therefore we are not justified to kill the sons of Dhritarashtra, our own kinsmen. Indeed, having killed our own people, how could we be happy? Even if those whose thoughts are overpowered by greed do not see the wrong caused by the destruction of the family, and the crime of treachery to friends, why should we not know to turn back from this evil through discernment of the evil caused by the destruction of the family?

In the destruction of the family, the long-established family dharmas perish. When dharma perishes, adharma predominates in the entire family. From overpowering by adharma the women of the family are corrupted. When the women are corrupted, the intermixture of caste is born. Intermixture brings to hell the family destroyers and the family, too. Indeed their ancestors fall from heaven back to earthly rebirth, deprived of offerings of rice and water. By these wrongs of the family’s destroyers, producing intermixture of caste, caste dharmas and long-established family dharmas are obliterated. Those whose family dharmas have been obliterated dwell indefinitely in hell–thus have we heard repeatedly.

Ah! Alas! we are resolved to do great evil with our greed for royal pleasures, intent on killing our own people. If the armed sons of Dhritarashtra should kill me in battle, unresisting and unarmed, this would be a greater happiness for me.

Thus having spoken, Arjuna, in the battle which had already begun, sat down upon the chariot seat, throwing down both arrow and bow, with a heart overcome by sorrow (1:26-47).

Faintheartedness

This is long, but needs no comment. (We will be considering the subject of caste and caste-mixture later.) All we need understand is the great upset of Arjuna. It is the symbolism that matters. As already said, when we take stock of the inner conflict, we identify with both sides. Thinking that if they are dissolved or destroyed a part of us will cease to exist, we are appalled and feel that our very existence is threatened. Then, like all human beings who do not like the truth when they see or hear it, we become “confused” and try to avoid the unpleasant prospect. Bitter as death seems the inner battle, so we shrink from it and desperately try to find a way out.

So does Arjuna. In a lengthy and impassioned monologue he has presented to Krishna what is really a plea to inaction, to avoidance of conflict, thinking that such a negative condition is peace, whereas peace is a positive state, not the mere absence of unrest and conflict. It is also reached only through unrest and conflict, however little we like the fact.

Running away from spiritual obligation–and therefore spiritual life itself–the awakening soul on occasion brings all its ingenuity to bear on justification of such avoidance. Arjuna veils his aversion with words of compassion for others, when in actuality he is the sole object of his dishonest “compassion.” He simply does not wish to see others suffer because that will make him suffer–and feel guilty for their suffering. Krishna makes this clear to him. The Stoic, Epictetus, was once visited by a man who told him that he loved his daughter so much he had run from the house rather than see her suffering from illness. Carefully, gently yet firmly, Epictetus led him to understand that it was his self-love that motivated him, not love for his child.

It is the same with us; ego-involvement–addiction, actually–grips us, and we are the only ones who can free ourselves from it. And battle is the only means.

Krishna’s response

Sanjaya said: To him who was thus overcome by pity, whose eyes were filled with tears, downcast and despairing, Krishna spoke these words

The Holy Lord said: Whence has come this faintheartedness of yours in the time of danger–ignoble, not leading to heaven, but to disgrace? At no time should you entertain such cowardice–it is unsuitable in you. Abandon this base faintheartedness and stand up.

Arjuna said: But how can I in battle fight with arrows against Bhishma and Drona, who are worthy of reverence? Better that I eat the food of beggary in this world instead of my slaying these great and noble gurus. If I should kill them, desirous for gain, in truth here on earth I would enjoy pleasures stained with blood. We know not which is preferable: whether we should conquer them, or they should conquer us. The sons of Dhritarashtra stand facing us after slaying whom we would not wish to live. Weakness and pity overcome my being; with mind in confusion as to my duty, I supplicate you: Beyond doubt tell me which is preferable. I am your disciple; do you direct me. Truly, I see nothing that can remove this sorrow that dries up my senses, though I should attain on earth unrivalled and prosperous dominion, or even the sovereignty of the gods.

Sanjaya said: Thus having addressed Krishna, Arjuna said, “I shall not fight,” and became totally silent (2:1-9).

Hopefully we all sympathize with Arjuna and see his perspective which certainly seems to be that of dharma. Nevertheless, note that Arjuna at the end of his words asks Krishna to remove his error–if such it is. This shows his humility, in contrast to the arrogance and swaggering of Duryodhana. Therefore he merits the alleviation he pleads for. Even the wisest are conscious that they can be wrong.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Smile of Krishna

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

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

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