Excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita Background


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Excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita


Arjuna , a Pandava, has chosen his brother-in-law, Krishna , as his charioteer and trusted advisor for the coming battle with the Kauravas. At this early point in the story, Arjuna knows only that Krishna is a special person. He does not yet realize that Krishna is a god. As the poem begins, Arjuna faces a dilemma: He knows it is wrong to kill his cousins and uncles who are on the opposing side, but he also knows that it is his duty to fight. In the first chapter of the Gita, he refuses to take part in the battle; dropping his bow, he asks Krishna for advice. The great warrior Arjuna appears here in Chapter 2, weeping with frustration and confusion.

The Yoga of Knowledge

krishna: Arjuna, is this hour of battle the time for scruples and fancies? Are they worthy of you, who seek enlightenment? Any brave man who merely hopes for fame or heaven would despise them. What is this weakness? It is beneath you. Is it for nothing men call you the foe-consumer? Shake off this cowardice, Arjuna. Stand up.

arjuna: Bhisma and Drona are noble and ancient, worthy of the deepest reverence. How can I greet them with arrows, in battle? If I kill them, how can I ever enjoy my wealth, or any other pleasure? It will be cursed with blood-guilt. I would much rather spare them, and eat the bread of a beggar.

Which will be worse, to win this war, or to lose it? I scarcely know. Even the sons of Dhritarashtra stand in the enemy ranks. If we kill them, none of us will wish to live.

Is this real compassion that I feel, or only a delusion? My mind gropes about in darkness. I cannot see where my duty lies. Krishna, I beg you, tell me frankly and clearly what I ought to do. I am your disciple. I put myself into your hands. Show me the way.

Not this world’s kingdom,

Supreme, unchallenged,

No, nor the throne

Of the gods in heaven,

Could ease this sorrow

That numbs my senses!

krishna: Your words are wise, Arjuna, but your sorrow is for nothing. The truly wise mourn neither for the living nor for the dead.

There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be.

Even if you consider this from the standpoint of your own caste-duty, you ought not to hesitate; for, to a warrior, there is nothing nobler than a righteous war. Happy are the warriors to whom a battle such as this comes: it opens a door to heaven…..

But if you refuse to fight this righteous war, you will be turning aside from your duty. You will be a sinner, and disgraced. People will speak ill of you throughout the ages. To a man who values his honor, that is surely worse than death. The warrior-chiefs will believe it was fear that drove you from the battle; you will be despised by those who have admired you so long. Your enemies, also, will slander your courage. They will use the words which should never be spoken. What could be harder to bear than that?

Die, and you win heaven. Conquer, and you enjoy the earth. Stand up now, son of Kunti, and resolve to fight. Realize that pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, are all one and the same: then go into battle. Do this and you cannot commit any sin.

Critical Reading

1. Respond: Do you agree with Sri Krishna’s advice to Arjuna? Why or why not?

2. (a) Recall: When Arjuna is distraught at the beginning of the selection, whom does he ask for advice? (b) Analyze Causes and Effects: What is the cause of his confusion?

3. (a) Recall: What action does Krishna advise Arjuna to take? (b) Analyze: Does Arjuna have a choice? Why or why not?

4. (a) Recall: In what manner does Krishna advise Arjuna to fight? (b) Deduce: What will Arjuna ultimately gain from acting this way?

5. Apply: What advice might Krishna give to people in modern society?
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