By T.N.Sethumadhavan October 2010
Arjuna Vishaada Yogah: The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna
Generally before commencing the study of the Bhagavad Gita text, it is customary to study the meditation verses on the Gita called Gita Dhyana Slokas. We do not know who composed them. It is a set of 9 verses recited as invocation, dedication and prayer to the Gita Knowledge and its glory. For our purposes let us take up one of the verses and understand its meaning.
Prapanna paarijaataaya totra vetraika paanaye |
Jnaanamudraaya krishnaaya geetaamrita duhe namah || Salutations to Bhagvan Krishna, with His right hand in Jnana Mudra, the bestower of all needs to those who surrender to Him completely, the milker of the divine nectar of the Bhagavad Gita, the holder of the whip in one hand for driving the cows.
This verse describes Sri Krishna with His right hand held in Jnana Mudra - in knowledge posture - wherein the thumb is joined to the forefinger and all the other three fingers are stretched out, the gesture symbolizing knowledge. This is a remarkable concept in Indian Vedantic philosophy and spirituality which indicates that our body postures have psychological counter parts. As the mind is, so is the body; bodily expressions being the manifestation of the working of the mind or the effect of psyche. This is what we call ‘body language’ in the modern business school terminology. It means that there is nothing in this world so purifying as Knowledge.
We offer our obeisance to Sri Krishna who is the embodiment of Knowledge and who imparts such knowledge to all those who seek it from Him. This is what Arjuna does in the Gita. That knowledge is the Supreme Knowledge - the knowledge of the Absolute Reality, the knowledge of Dharma, the knowledge of righteousness, the knowledge about the right way of living.
With this prayer let us start our journey in the Gita Ganga and crave for Sri Krishna’s enlightenment.
The 1st Chapter in the Gita introduces the scene, the setting, the circumstances and the characters involved determining the reasons for the espousal of the Bhagavad Gita. The scene is the sacred plain of Kurukshetra. The setting is a battlefield. The situation is that the war between the two clans of brothers, the Kauravas and the Pandavas is about to begin.
The main characters are Bhagavan Sri Krishna and the valiant Arjuna from the side of Pandavas and Duryodhana from the side of Kauravas in the midst of large armies on both the sides led by their respective commanders.
After noticing the principal warriors on both the sides, Arjuna falls into the mood of deep dejection and melancholy due to the fear of destruction of friends and relatives in the course of the impending war leading to his resolve not to take up arms against his kith and kin. This is the subject matter of this Chapter and hence it is called “Arjuna Vishaada Yogah: The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna
The question dhritaraashtra uvaacha
dharmakshetre kurukshetre samavetaa yuyutsavah
maamakaah paandavaashchaiva kimakurvata sanjaya // 1 // Dhritarashtra said
In the entire Gita this is the only uttering of the blind king, Dhritarashtra. All the remaining verses are Sanjaya`s report to him about the happenings at the battlefield of Kurukshetra just before the war.
The battlefield is called dharmakshetra or the sacred field because The Lord who is the protector and embodiment of Dharma was actively present in it. Kurukshetra means the field of the Kurus, a leading clan of that era. This question of Dhritarashtra exhibits a sense of anxiety in him on two counts. If Pandavas decide not to undertake the war, his sons will automatically get the kingdom and in such an event, the stigma of waging the unrighteous war might not stick to his covetous and deceitful sons. If his sons decide not to wage the war they will lose the kingdom that was earlier acquired by them through deceit, because of which they will be as good as dead. Such was the anxiety in the king’s mind because of the greatness and spiritual atmosphere of the field of battle.
Mamakaah: My people. And ‘Pandu’s sons’. - This sort of divisive reference to one and the same family members indicates the absence of the sense of familiarity and closeness with regard to the Pandavas and thereby betrays hostility towards them.
This sense of a pair of opposites ‘mine-ness’ and ‘not mine-neness’ is the result of ahamkara or `I - ness' which is the source of all evil. The conflict between the two cousin groups represents the clash between two sets of values of life - one standing for virtue, justice and righteousness staking a legitimate claim for the kingdom lost through deceit and treachery and the other for vice, injustice, greed, hunger for power and the foul means employed to justify the ends. It indirectly indicates that life itself is a battle between good and evil.
Two armies sanjaya uvaacha
drishtwaa tu paandavaaneekam vyoodham duryodhanastadaa
Having seen the army of Pandavas drawn up in battle array, King Duryodhana then approached his teacher, Drona, and spoke these words.
Duryodhana was thinking all along that it might not be possible for the Pandavas to mobilize forces strong enough to face his own huge army. But what he saw on the battlefield unnerved his position and hence he rushed to his teacher and exclaimed:
pashyaitaam paanduputraanaam aacharya mahateem chamoom
vyoodhaam drupadaputrena tava shishyena dheemataa // 3 // Behold, O Teacher, this mighty army of the sons of Pandu, arrayed by the son of Drupada, your wise disciple.
atra shooraa maheshwaasaa bheemaarjunasamaa yudhi
yuyudhaano viraatashcha drupadashcha mahaarathah // 4 //
Here are heroes, mighty archers, equal in battle to Bhima and Arjuna, Yuyudhana, Virata and Drupada, the great chariot warrior.
purujit kuntibhojashcha shaibhyashcha narapungavah // 5 // Dhrishtaketu, Chekitana and the valiant king of Kasi, Purujit, Kuntibhoja and Saibya, the best among men.
yudhaamanyushcha vikraanta uttamaujaashcha veeryavan
saubhadro draupadeyaashcha sarva eva mahaarathaah // 6 // The courageous Yudhamanyu, the brave Uttamauja, Saubhadra and the sons of Draupadi - all great chariot-warriors.
asmaakam tu vishishtaa ye taan nibodha dwijottama
naayakaa mama sainyasya samjnaartham taan braveemi te // 7 // Know also, O the best among the twice born, the names of those who are most distinguished amongst ourselves, the leaders of my army. These I relate to you for your information.
bhavaan bheeshmashcha karnashcha kripashcha samitinjayah
ashwatthaamaa vikarnashcha saumadattis tathaiva cha // 8 // Yourself and Bhishma and Karna and Kripa, the victorious in war, Aswatthama and Vikarna and Jayadratha, the son of Somadatta.
anye cha bahavah shooraa madarthe tyaktajeevitaah
naanaashastrapraharanaah sarve yuddhavishaaradaah // 9 // And many other heroes also, well-skilled in warfare and armed with many kinds of weapons are here; ready to lay down their lives for my sake.
aparyaaptam tad asmaakam balam bheeshmaabhirakshitam
paryaaptam twidam eteshaam balam bheemaabhirakshitam // 10 // Our army defended by Bhishma is insufficient but the army of theirs defended by Bhima is sufficient.
ayaneshu cha sarveshu yathaabhaagam avasthitaah
bheeshmam evaabhirakshantu bhavantah sarva eva hi // 11 //
Now all of you being stationed in your respective positions in the divisions of the army guard Bhishma alone by all means.
By using the words `your talented pupil' Duryodhana sarcastically told Drona that he was a mere simpleton to teach the art of warfare to the son of Drupada [Drstadyumna] who was standing before him to kill no other person than his teacher himself.
Duryodhana perceived the army of Pandavas as formidable because of his own guilty consciousness and doubts about the loyalty of his chief warriors. A list of all the names of the mighty warriors in the Pandava army was given.
Dwijottama means ‘twice born' which refers to the Brahminical background of Drona. Duryodhana implied that Drona, a Brahmin and therefore being timid by nature and given to peaceful life, might be soft towards his students no matter to whichever side they may belong to.
Receiving no response from Drona despite his long speech and to make amends for his censuring him, Duryodhana enumerated the names of the warriors of his side also exaggerating their qualities in order to look self-confident and hide his nervousness. Duryodhana felt that his army led by Bhishma was insufficient because of the latter's softness towards Pandavas and the other led by Bhima as sufficient because of its high morale and efficiency. He ordered full protection to Bhishma from all sides and by all means not only to please him but to emphasize his important place in the entire Kaurava army. He was fully aware that once Bhishma were to be eliminated his whole edifice would collapse.
Sounding of the conch shells tasya sanjanayan harsham kuruvriddhah pitaamahah
sahasaivaabhyahanyanta sa shabdastumulo bhavat // 13 // Then (following Bhishma) conches, kettle drums, tabors, trumpets and cow-horns suddenly blared forth from the Kaurava side creating a tumultuous noise.
tatah shvetair hayair yukte mahati syandane sthitau
maadhavah paandavashchaiva divyau shankhau pradadhmatuh // 14 // Then stationed in their magnificent chariot, yoked with white horses, Madhava (Krishna) and the son of Pandu (Arjuna) also blew their divine conches with a furious noise.
paanchajanyam hrisheekesho devadattam dhananjayah
paundram dadhmau mahaashankham bheemakarmaa vrikodarah // 15 // Hrishikesha (Krishna) blew the conch, Panchajanya, Dhananjaya (Arjuna) blew the Devadatta and Bhima, the doer of terrible deeds, blew the great conch, Paundra.
anantavijayam raajaa kunteeputro yudhishthirah
nakulah sahadevashcha sughoshamanipushpakau // 16 // King Yudhishtira, the son of Kunti, blew the Anantavijaya, Nakula and Sahadeva blew the Sughosha and Manipushpaka conches respectively.
kaashyashcha parameshwaasah shikhandee cha mahaarathah
dhrishtadyumno viraatashcha saatyakishchaaparaajitah // 17 // The king of Kasi, an excellent archer, Sikhandi, the mighty chariot-warrior, Dhrshtadyumna, Virata and Satyaki, the unconquered.
drupado draupadeyaashcha sarvashah prithiveepate
Drupada and the sons of Draupadi, O Lord of the earth, and the son of Subhadra, the mighty armed, blew their respective conches.
sa ghosho dhaartaraashtraanaam hridayaani vyadaarayat
nabhashcha prithiveem chaiva tumulo vyanunaadayan // 19 // The tumultuous sound of the conches pierced the hearts of the members of the Dhritarashtra's side, making both the sky and earth resound.
Bhishma understood the mental agony of Duryodhana. In order to cheer him up he roared like a lion and blew his conch which was misunderstood as a signal for commencement of war. The Kaurava army blared forth their various conches and martial musical instruments signifying the declaration of war from the side of Kauravas.
In these verses Sanjaya had given the reaction of Pandavas to the war-cry raised from the opposite side and the names of various conches blown by the respective heroes. The most famous among them is the conch `Panchajanya' blown by Krishna. The uproar seemed to penetrate the hearts of Kauravas deeply and abnormally because of their guilty conscience.
Metaphorically, the chariot represents the human gross body, the horses are the senses and their reins are the mind that controls the senses. The charioteer is the guiding spirit or the Self or Atman in the human beings. Bhagavan Sri Krishna, the divine charioteer, is the Self in all of us.
By addressing Dhritarashtra as the lord of the earth (Verse 18) and hinting about the superiority of the Pandava side Sanjaya implied that as the ruling monarch he would take a decision even at that catastrophic moment to preserve the integrity of the country from the impending ruinous warfare. But that was not to be.
Arjuna’s desire to survey the two armies CH3
atha vyavasthitaan drishtwaa dhaartaraashtraan kapidhwajah
Then, O Lord of the earth, seeing Dhritarashtra's men being positioned and discharge of weapons about to begin, Pandava (Arjuna), whose ensign was Hanuman, raising his bow, spoke the following words to Krishna.
The critical situation prevailing just at that moment when the war was about to begin was described. The hero of Mahabharata war, Arjuna, arrived at the battlefield. Tension prevailed everywhere. Crisis was at its zenith.
Arjuna appeared impatient to fire the shot. He raised his bow to position it and at that crucial juncture he spoke to Krishna the following words which turned out to be historic as the starting point for the dialogue between them in the form of the great Srimad Bhagavad Gita.
kair mayaa saha yoddhavyam asmin ranasamudyame // 22 // Arjuna said
O Achyuta (Krishna) place my chariot in between both the armies so that I may survey those who stand here eager to fight. Let me know on the eve of this battle with whom I have to fight.
yotsyamaanaan avekshe'ham ya ete'tra samaagataah
dhaartaraashtrasya durbuddher yuddhe priyachikeershavah // 23 // For, I desire to have a glance at those who are assembled here to fight, wishing to please the perverted son of Dhritarashtra.
Arjuna thus expressed his bravery, readiness, impatience, gallantry and determination to face the battle. This is an important stage in the story because up to this time Arjuna was an invincible hero full of self-confidence and enthusiasm with no signs of mental aberrations. However, a little later he became a completely changed personality.
Sri Krishna enters the scene
O Bharata (Dhritarashtra), thus requested by Gudakesha (Arjuna), Hrishikesha placed the magnificent chariot between the two armies in front of Bhishma and Drona and the other rulers of the earth and said `O Partha (Arjuna), behold all these Kurus assembled here'.
Gudakesha, one who has controlled sleep i.e. Arjuna. It implies that once a goal is set by him he will not rest contended till it is achieved. Partha means the son of Prtha (Kunti) i.e. Arjuna. Krishna placed his chariot with sagacity at such a point wherefrom Arjuna could see clearly his kinsman, Bhishma and preceptor, Drona and other kings and warriors of Kaurava side.
As a dutiful driver Krishna told Arjuna `Behold, O Arjuna, all the Kauravas gathered here'. These are the only words spoken by Krishna in the first chapter of the Gita which proved to be a spark to ignite the process of burning down the false perceptions of the mighty Arjuna.
What did Arjuna see? tatraa pashyat sthitaan paarthah pitrin atha pitaamahaan
aacharyaan maatulaan bhraatrun putraan pautraan sakheemstathaa //26 // Then Arjuna saw stationed there in the armies, uncles, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons and friends too.
shvashuraan suhridashchaiva senayorubhayorapi
He saw fathers-in-law and friends also in both armies. Kaunteya (son of Kunti) i.e. Arjuna seeing all these relatives arrayed there, became overwhelmed by supreme compassion and said this sorrowfully.
Arjuna seeing his elders and other relations, teachers, friends and well wishers arrayed in the battle ready to fight suddenly developed extreme self-pity and compassion. His manliness gave way to faint-heartedness thinking about consequences that will follow in waging the war with his kinsmen which will result in destroying his own race.
The valiant hero, Arjuna, transformed himself into a kinsman of the opposite side i.e. as a son, a brother, a student etc. This change of disposition was verily spontaneous. It was not due to any discrimination, but on account of the very absence of it and because of an erroneous understanding called delusion and mental confusion called grief which prevents right perception of the situation.
Arjuna’s Reaction CH4 arjuna uvaacha
drishtwe mam swajanam krishna yuyutsum samupasthitam // 28 // Arjuna said
O Krishna, seeing these relatives and friends gathered here eager to fight,
seedanti mama gaatraani mukham cha parishushyati
vepathushcha shareere me romaharshashcha jaayate // 29// My limbs fail me and my mouth gets parched up, my body trembles and my hairs stand on end.
gaandeevam sramsate hastaat twak chaiva paridahyate
na cha shaknomyavasthaatum bhramateeva cha me manah // 30 // The Gandiva (bow) slips from my hand and my skin burns all over; I am unable even to stand steady and my mind is reeling.
nimittaani cha pashyaami vipareetaani keshava na cha shreyo'nupashyaami hatwaa swajanam aahave // 31 //
And I see evil omens, O Kesava (Krishna), I do not see any good in killing my own people in this battle.
Arjuna's attention to omens indicates that his mental strength had gone down. It started showing its weakness and instability. The world he was seeing till a short while ago, now presented him with a different picture on account of his change of perception. Subjectivity replaced objectivity on account of his mental confusion. Losing self-control, he landed in the abyss of ignorance. His words make us think of the loneliness of man oppressed by doubts and emptiness from whom the comforts of human life are slipping away. This sadness is the first experience of those who aspire for the vision of the Reality.
Arjuna’s Anguish na kaangkshe vijayam krishna na cha raajyam sukhaani cha
kim no raajyena govinda kim bhogair jeevitena vaa // 32 // For, I do not desire victory, O, Krishna, or pleasures or kingdoms. Of what avail is kingdom to us O, Govinda (Krishna), or pleasures or even life?
Indifference to acquisition of worldly pleasures is a sign of ethical and spiritual progress. However, Arjuna was far from it. It is only his delusion which is masquerading as mental achievement. It is nothing but a momentary temptation to adopt the method of renunciation in times of great sorrow and crisis bordering on escapism from the reality.
yeshaam arthe kaangkshitam no raajyam bhogaah sukhaani cha
ta ime'vasthitaa yuddhe praanaams tyaktwaa dhanaani cha // 33 // Those for whose sake we desire kingdoms, enjoyments and pleasures, stand here in battle staking their life and wealth.
aachaaryah pitarah putraastathaiva cha pitaamahaah
Teachers, fathers, sons and also grandfathers, uncles and fathers-in-law, grandsons and brothers-in-law and other relatives
etaan na hantum icchaami ghnato'pi madhusoodana
api trailokya raajyasya hetoh kim nu maheekrite // 35 // O, Madhusudana (Krishna), though these were to kill me, I do not wish to kill them even for the sake of dominion over the three worlds, leave alone killing them for the sake of the earth.
nihatya dhaartaraashtraan nah kaa preetih syaaj janaardana
paapam evaashrayed asmaan hatwaitaan aatataayinah // 36 // By killing these sons of Dhritarashtra, what pleasures can be ours O, Janardana (Krishna)? Only sin will accrue by killing these felons.
The term `felon' refers to the one who sets fire to the house of another, runs with a sword to kill, poisons others, plunders the wealth and land of others or usurps the wife of somebody else. Duryodhana committed all these crimes against the Pandavas. According to Artha Sastra no sin is committed if such felons are killed. But Arjuna overwhelmed with a sense of sentimental sympathy for his near and dear ones takes the help of the general principle of Dharma Sastra which forbids the sin of killing one another. He is talking in terms of enlightened selfishness.
tasmaan naarhaa vayam hantum dhaartaraashtraan swabaandhavaan
swajanam hi katham hatwaa sukhinah syaama maadhava // 37 // Therefore, we should not kill the sons of Dhritarashtra, our relatives; for, how can we be happy by killing our own people, O, Madhava (Krishna)?
yadyapyete na pashyanti lobhopahatachetasah
kulakshayakritam dosham mitradrohe cha paatakam // 38 //
katham na jneyam asmaabhih paapaad asmaan nivartitum
O Janardana, though with their intelligence overpowered by greed they do not see any evil or sin in the destruction of families or hostility towards friends, why should not we who clearly see evil in the destruction of a family, learn to turn away from this sin.
Arjuna was reinforcing his arguments for saving the Kaurava desperadoes due to his attachment for his relatives and friends by putting forward a philosophy of non-resistance to evil. Krishna in his discourses that will follow proved the hollowness of these arguments and their dangerous implications.
kulakshaye pranashyanti kuladharmaah sanaatanaah
dharme nashte kulam kritsnam adharmo'bhibhavatyuta // 40 // In the destruction of a family, its ancient religious traditions perish; on the destruction of spirituality, lawlessness overtakes the whole family.
Dharma or spirituality means the duties, rites and ceremonies practiced by the family in accordance with the injunctions of the scriptures. War tends to tear us away from our natural home surroundings and uproot us from social traditions which are the essence of the mature will and experience of the people.
adharmaabhibhavaat krishna pradushyanti kulastriyah
streeshu dushtaasu vaarshneya jaayate varnasankarah // 41 // And when lawlessness prevails, O Krishna, the women of the family become corrupt and when women become corrupted it results in intermingling of castes O, Varshneya (Krishna- the descendent of Vrshni clan). The idea is that when women are associated with their husbands who flouted their family traditions of righteousness, they may also feel emboldened to commit transgressions.
sankaro narakaayaiva kulaghnaanaam kulasya cha
Admixture of castes leads the family and the slayers of the family to hell because the spirits of their ancestors fall, deprived of the offerings of rice and water.
doshair etaih kulaghnaanaam varnasankarakaarakaih
utsaadyante jaatidharmaah kuladharmaashcha shaashwataah // 43 // By these evil deeds of the destroyers of the family, which cause confusion of castes, the traditional duties of the caste and the family are destroyed.
utsannakuladharmaanaam manushyaanaam janaardana
narake niyatam vaaso bhavateetyanushushruma // 44 // O, Janardana, we have heard that dwelling in hell for an infinite period is inevitable for those people whose family duties have been destroyed.
Arjuna argued that impiety will predominate in the families because the death of the experienced persons in the battle field will leave none to control and guide them in good conduct and right behavior. This would lead to the womenfolk of these families going astray causing intermingling of castes.
The word `caste' meant a division of society based on one's mental tendencies and qualifications for taking up a particular type of work or avocation in the community. The division of society was never intended to be based on mere accident of birth. Therefore admixture of castes implies people choosing their avocations not suitable to their own inherent aptitude and tendencies resulting in the loss of professional ethics and excellence.
With the intermingling of castes, progeny would not perform `Sraaddha' ceremonies to their deceased ancestors which would cause them a downfall in the other world. It was feared that the traditions of the individual families called Kula Dharma and those of a social group called Jati Dharma or Varna Dharma might get disturbed due to social upheaval as a consequence of war.
The import of Arjuna’s arguments was that when the fundamental harmony of the domestic life gets broken, when purity of living and sanctity of thought were destroyed, when the ideals enshrined in immemorial traditions were shattered, when the social equilibrium is disturbed, chaos alone will reign supreme in the world..
aho bata mahat paapam kartum vyavasitaa vayam
dhaartaraashtraa rane hanyus tanme kshemataram bhavet // 46 // Alas, what a pity that we have resolved to commit a great sin by being eager to kill our own kith and kin out of greed for the pleasures of a kingdom ! It would, indeed be better for me if the sons of Dhritarashtra, armed with weapons, were to kill me in the battle while I remain unarmed and unresisting.
The idea is that instead of committing the heinous sin of killing his own relatives and friends, Arjuna feels that purification from even such a thought itself will come from the amends in the form of an end to his own life itself.
Arjuna, exhibiting lack of self- confidence, became a victim of emotions instead of a master of the situation. In his weak state of mind he was imputing ulterior motives to a righteous war which he himself was stoutly defending up to the very day it was to start. He went to the extent of telling Krishna that non-injury was a virtue preferable to defending oneself against other's attacks. He was not aware that his attachment, selfishness and delusions were responsible for his faint-heartedness and cold-feet in the face of a crisis. His despondency ultimately culminated in meek pulling out from the situation in which he finds himself.
Confounded and Distressed, Arjuna collapses sanjaya uvaacha
evamuktwaa'rjunah sankhye rathopastha upaavishat
visrijya sasharam chaapam shokasamvignamaanasah // 47 // Sanjaya said
Having spoken thus in the midst of the battlefield, Arjuna, throwing away his bow and arrows, sank into the seat of the chariot, with his mind afflicted by sorrow.
Arjuna finally decided not to fight. He threw away his arms and sank into his seat. This is really strange for a warrior of Arjuna's caliber. For all these outpourings, Krishna did not respond. The Lord allowed him to exhaust himself so that the message He was going to deliver shortly to Arjuna and through him to the entire humanity would be fully effective.
om tat sat
sri krishnaarjuna samvaade arjuna vishaada yogo naama prathamo'dyaayah|| Thus in the Upanishads of the glorious Bhagavad Gita, the science of the Eternal, the scripture of Yoga, the dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna, ends the first discourse entitled: The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna
The significance of these narrations at the end of each Chapter has already been explained in the introductory essay.
We shall have a critical look at this Chapter next time.