Bhagavad Gita – Message of War or Peace?

-       Sri N.V.Raghuram

The simple message of Bhagavad Gita is applicable in our day-to-day life. The unique situation created in Bhagavad Gita is worth noting. Krishna and Arjuna discuss the deepest aspects of life in the battlefield. We need such gems of wisdom in our everyday battle of life, not in the old age as the general convention goes.

Arjuna’s Delusion

When conches were blown for the Mahabharata war, Arjuna says to Krishna to take his chariot in between the two armies so he could plan the war strategy. Krishna does that. This is where the problem started. Arjuna did not see the army. He saw his own cousins, his guru, uncles and grandparents. He became nervous at the thought of killing the people he respected and revered. He wanted to retreat from the war, renounce everything and go into the forest in search of peace.

Arjuna presents his arguments for the reversal of his act very logically. The arguments are so sound that, time and again, critics of Bhagavad Gita have often accused Krishna that he is a war-monger and has provoked Arjuna to kill. Arjuna wanted to meditate and he should have been allowed to do that – is their common argument. The entire Jain parampara said that violence of Mahabharata is because of Krishna. So according to them, Krishna went to hell after his death. However, because he was the avatar of God, he came out of hell early – they say.

Good and Bad

 Although Arjuna’s arguments are sociologically correct, one has to look at the entire situation to be able to understand Bhagavad Gita in a proper context. By the time the war began, Arjuna had exhausted all the good actions. On one side were the evil cousins and their ambitious father. Dhrutarashtra, the blind king was not just physically blind. He did not want to see the good and chose to remain blind in his ambition for power. Pandavas deserved the kingdom not just because they were the sons of the dead king Pandu, but also because they were just, brave and possessed all the qualities of a Kshatriya (warrior). Multiple conspiracies were hatched to kill the Pandavas by Kauravas and Uncle Shakuni.

In spite of all conspiracies, the Pandavas respected their uncle king Dhrutarashtra, silently bore the insult to their wife Draupadi and accepted the exile for 13 years. Yet nothing convinced Dhrutarashtra to be good to his brother’s children. Dhrutarashtra and his sons were consciously and deliberately bad. Arjuna was consciously good. He followed his elder brother Yudhishtira, who always stood for righteousness. Yet he suffered in the battlefield and worse, his goodness became the cause of his suffering.

Arjuna’s unjust justification

One may get an impression that Arjuna never wanted to fight the war. Arjuna brings about a sociological perspective saying that the war can kill many young men, creating many young widows and orphans, ultimately destroying the culture of the land. If the philosopher such as Confucius and Schopenhauer were to listen to these arguments, they would appreciate Arjuna. However, the same Arjuna and his brothers except Yudhishtira were keen to fight the war as a revenge to the insults hurled on Draupadi, their beloved wife and for all the conspiracies against them. On the other hand, Krishna did everything to prevent the war. When Pandavas were eager to avenge their insults - Draupadi wanting the blood of brother-in-law Dushasana for her untied hair, Bhima wanting to break Dushasana’s thighs, Arjuna wanting to Kill Karna for insulting Draupadi- Krishna explained them that peace was much more valuable than their vows of revenge. When he visited Hastinapur, the Kaurava capital, he took the liberty to ask for only five villages as a peace pact. Even this minimal request was denied. War was inevitable.

Beyond Good and Bad

Bhagavad Gita does not strictly fall in the realm of good and bad. If it were so, then it would not be a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. Arjuna was already a good man and his problem was in fact because of his goodness. Gita dwells with the region of knowledge that is beyond the pairs of opposite – the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. Gita is not a religious text, but a spiritual advice. Where all the religions end, spirituality begins. When man has followed the right code of conduct, then alone, he is ready for spirituality. This is true of all the Upanishads that are called Vedanta – the end of Vedas. Bhagavad Gita is also called Upanishad for the same reason.

Krishna introduces a concept of Life as a spectrum – the lower end is the material plane, the body and the upper end is the consciousness, the Atman. It is up to us to identify with the body or consciousness. When we identify with the body, then the body’s nature (dharma) will always be mounting on us. The body has a constant fear of death. At the level of consciousness, we are continuous. Whether the body is a child, adult or old, consciousness is still the same. When we look at a flower, we see that it comes and goes, but when we look at flowering, it is ever present, season after season. Can I rise from the level of flower to the flowering? From body to consciousness? That is when I understand that neither fire can burn me, nor water can wet me, nor the weapons can cut me (nainam chindanti shastrani, nainam dahati paavakah … 2:23)

When we look at Bhagavad Gita in this way, our actions will be free from attachments and the conflicts of our life are easily dealt with. As it happens to Arjuna at the end of Bhagavad Gita, we too get the clarity to take our own decision in the battle of life. Krishna simply says “do as you wish” to Arjuna at the end of all the discussions and Arjuna says he is now free of all tensions and worries and is ready to fight. Let us take the message of Bhagavad Gita in the right spirit and be ready to deal with life appropriately.

Sri N.V. Raghuram is a spiritual founder of Yoga Bharati and is a professor at SVYASA University, Bengaluru

This article was published in the Souvenir published for Yoga Sangam International Conference 2012 conducted by Yoga Bharati.