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” (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.
- 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.
- He was showing to Arjuna that he understood his feelings and his reasoning.
- He was showing to Arjuna that all our little teapot tempests which 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Krishna was going to dispel the sadness and bewilderment of Arjuna in a short time through his wisdom teaching.
Right but wrong
Smiling, Lord Krishna says an unexpected thing to Arjuna in response to his fervent disquisition on how he both should not and could not engage in battle on the field of Kurukshetra:
“You have mourned those that should not be mourned, and you speak words as if with wisdom; the wise do not mourn for the dead or for the living” (2:11).
Arjuna looked out at the battlefield, and seeing those he loved and even revered was overwhelmed with the enormity of killing them, and expressed his feelings to Krishna, as we have just seen in the previous article. Krishna’s reaction to this impassioned speech was to smile and say: “Your words are wise, Arjuna, but you are wrong.” He then explained very fully just why Arjuna’s conclusions were mistaken, and we will be looking at his explanations later, but for now it will be beneficial for us to pursue this matter of being wrong even when we seem to be right–which is not uncommon in religion.
The fundamental problem is the character of the mind itself. It is intended as a link between the witness-consciousness that is our pure spirit and the outer world that is really only a dream in the mind of God and our minds, for we are co-dreamers with God in the Great Dream of creation and evolution.
God and his creation are a bit like Moliere and his plays. Backstage Moliere wrote out in large script the basics of the plot and the actors went onstage and improvised their lines and actions within Moliere’s parameters. After many performances the words were written down and Moliere has received all the credit for centuries. In the same way God has set the boundaries and the basic scenario of evolution in consciousness. We then ad-lib our way through the whole thing until we develop the good sense to listen to those who have already trodden the way and given instructions on the right way to go about it. Part of this good sense is the awareness that we rarely know what we are doing or see anything correctly or fully–for that is the nature of the mind: distortion and incompleteness.
Yet the mind is part of our equipment for evolution, so what shall we do? Clarify and correct it–and that can be done by meditation. For Krishna is going to tell Arjuna: “The sage who is disciplined in yoga [meditation] quickly attains Brahman,” and “He should practice yoga for the purpose of self-purification” (5:6; 6:12).
In the purity of mind produced by meditation, intuition comes to the fore, replacing discursive (and consequently tangled) thought, thus making the mind an instrument of perception rather than interference in perception. For our thoughts are mostly static and distortion. In time through the effect of meditation we no longer think–we know. Therefore: “With a mind disciplined by the practice of yoga, which does not turn to anything else, to the divine supreme Spirit he goes, meditating on Him” (8:8).
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
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