The Bhagavad-Gita begins with the preparation of battle between the two opposingsides: on the left stands the collected armies of the one hundred sons ofDhritarashtra and on the right lies the soldiers of the Pandava brothers. Warring relatives feuding over the right to govern the land of Kurukshetra, bothforces stand poised and ready to slaughter one another. The warrior Arjuna,leader of the Pandava armies, readies himself as his charioteer, the godKrishna, steers toward the opposition when the armies are ready to attack.
Arjuna stops Krishna short before the two sides clash together. Hesitation andpity creeps into Arjuna’s heart as he surveys his family and relatives on theother side; he loses his will to win at the cost of the lives he still loves. AsArjuna sets down his bow and prepares for his own death, the god Krishna beginshis council with Arjuna, where Krishna uses various ideas on action,self-knowledge, and discipline to reveal to Arjuna the freedom to be attainedfrom the suffering of man once Arjuna finds his devotion to Krishna. BeforeKrishna begins his teachings, Arjuna analyzes his emotions and describes toKrishna the way his heart feels.
“Krishna, I seek no victory, or kingship orpleasures” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 25). Arjuna admits that he stands to gainnothing of real worth from the war. He knows he cannot consciously triumph overfamily for his own wealth and glory. “We sought kingships,delights, and pleasures for the sake of those assembled to abandon their livesand fortunes in battle” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 25).
Arjuna continues on tostate that once the family is destroyed and family duty is lost, only chaos isleft to overcome what remains. He goes so far as to describe how chaos swells tocorrupt even the women in the families, creating disorder in society. Arjunatells Krishna that the punishment for men who undermine the duties of the familyare destined for a place in hell. Finally, Arjuna asks Krishna which is right:the tie to sacred duty or reason? Krishna begins his explanation by stating thatall life on earth is indestructible. “Never have I not existed, nor you, northese kings; and never in the future shall we cease to exist” (TheBhagavad-Gita, p.
31). Because life has always been, reasons Krishna, then howcan man kill or be killed when there is no end to the self? Also, Krishna tellsArjuna that his emotions of sorrow and pity are fleeting, and that endurance isall that is necessary to outlast the temporary thoughts. “If you fail to wagethis war of sacred duty, you will abandon your own duty and fame only to gainevil” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 34). Krishna reinforces the idea of dharma,reminding Arjuna of the consequences faced when one does not fulfill the dutyset before him.
“Your own duty done imperfectly is better than another man’sdone well. It is better to die in one’s own duty, another man’s duty isperilous” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 46). Doing one’s job poorly is preferableto doing another’s well.
Even if talents lie in a different area, the duty oneis assigned to is the responsibility of the individual. Failure of Arjuna toabide by his duty would have a profound effect on his worldly life as well. Enemies would slander Arjuna and companions would lose faith and respect in theman they once held in such high favor. If Arjuna loses his life, then he gainsheaven and if he wins then he gains the earth; thus there is no need for Arjunato fear for his own fate. To complete his sacred duty, Arjuna must perform thenecessary actions for the duty to be achieved. “Be intent on action, not onthe fruits of action; avoid attractions to the fruits and attachment toinaction!” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p.
36). In the third teaching, the abstinencefrom action fails because one cannot merely reject one’s actions and findsuccess. Inaction threatens the well-being of the physical body, warns Krishna. Discovered through techniques like yoga and inner reflection, action allows thefreedom of the self to be found and attained. Once Arjuna loses desire in theconsequences of his actions, then a new kind of discipline can be realized.
Understanding, rated superior to action by the god Krishna, provides thenecessary tools to perform the skills needed to execute the action. Krishnawarns Arjuna that this understanding can be lost once man begins a downwardprocess by lusting after pleasurable objects which creates desire, and fromdesire anger is born, from anger arises confusion, from confusion comes memoryloss, and from this the loss of understanding, signaling the ruin of man. Krishna blames Arjuna’s current emotions on worldly desires, and encouragesArjuna to seek a detachment from these worldly ties, so that the duty may becompleted and Arjuna will achieve his release from human suffering. Thediscussion of passion in the fourteenth teaching illustrates one of manyinconsistencies in Krishna’s argument. “Know that passion is emotional, bornof craving and attachment, it binds the embodied self with attachment toaction” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p.
122). Previously, Krishna counseled that astrong detachment from action, as well as from the fruits of action, isnecessary for the success of the endeavor. In a sense, Krishna says that passioncreates the drive and will needed to accomplish an action. “When passionincreases, Arjuna, greed and activity, involvement in actions, disquiet, andlonging arise” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p.
122). Exactly what merits the longingremains to be seen; Krishna gives the impression that this craving may deal withthe fruits of action, a clear contradiction to Krishna’s past words. In thissense, Krishna describes a unit of the three qualities that bind man to theself. Including passion, lucidity, and dark inertia, these qualities (whilebeing praised by Krishna) must be transcended for the achievement of liberation. To receive all knowledge of the cosmos and the self, Arjuna learns of Krishnahimself. Krishna describes himself as having eight aspects: earth, fire, water,wind, space, mind, understanding, and individuality.
These are his more worldlyfactors labeled as his lower nature. His upper nature is Krishna’s ability tosustain the universe, and be the source of all in existence. The three qualitiesof nature arise from him, as well as the beneficial aspects of strength withoutdesire and desire without imposing on the duty all man must possess. “Thedisciplined man of knowledge is set apart by his singular devotion; I am dear tothe man of knowledge, and he is dear to me” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 73). ToKrishna, the man of wisdom and knowledge goes hand in hand with the man who hascomplete devotion to the god.
Krishna likens the man of knowledge to himself,saying “. . . self-disciplined, he holds me to be the highest way” (TheBhagavad-Gita, p. 73), once again establishing the need for complete submission.
Knowledge, while seen as a way to achieve freedom, requires enough discipline tobe able to fully devote oneself to the god Krishna. It is through devotion,Krishna reveals, that man can truly achieve freedom from life and death. “Bydevotion alone can I, as I really am, be known and seen and entered into, Arjuna”(The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 108). In his teaching on devotion, Krishna tells Arjunato “renounce all actions to me” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 112) In the fifthteaching, Krishna calls for the release from attachment and the fruit of theaction, saying that once this occurs, then joy is found in the detachedindividual.
Yet, freedom can not be achieved through renunciation alone; it isaction with discipline that is essential for the success of the enlightened. AsKrishna continues his discourse, he begins to talk about the divine and demonicqualities inherent in all of man. “All creatures in the world are eitherdivine or demonic;” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 133). Apparently, all creatures arenaturally good or evil.
“. . . do not despair, Arjuna, you were born with thedivine” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p.
133). Born with the quality of good or evil,the individual is fated to be what is in his nature. If it is his duty to beevil, then it is at evil that the man will succeed. Krishna states that livingin evil leads to the bondage of the self in worldly things. Unable to freehimself, the demonic man is forced to repeat the cycle of life and death in aneverlasting pattern as Krishna casts each evil man back into demonic wombs.
Krishna also identifies the evil man as a slave to his own desires. Controlledand dictated by futile efforts, “they hoard wealth in stealthy ways to satisfytheir desires” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 134). The god also warns against threegates of hell: desire, anger, and greed. The renunciation of these allows forthe release of the self. In the seventeenth teaching, Krishna discusses thedifferences in the nature of man.
As stated before, these three aspects (alsothought of as aspects of faith) are lucidity, passion, and dark inertia. Thelucid man sacrifices to the gods, eats of the rich and savory foods, andsacrifices with all the traditions met. The man of passion sacrifices to thespirits and demons, eats harsh and bitter food that cause suffering, andsacrifices only to gain. The man of dark inertia sacrifices to the dead andghosts, eats food that has long spoiled, and sacrifices void of faith or anyreal emotion.
Into one of these three types fits every human on earth. Krishnapraises the lucid while warning of the passionate and the darkly inert. Thediscussion comes to a close when Krishna begins to summarize and conclude thepoints he has already mentioned. He specifies the difference between”renunciation” and “relinquishment”. Renunciation is the refusal ofaction grounded in desire, while relinquishment is the rejection of the fruit ofaction.
In death, the relinquishing of the fruits allows the self to lose allties to the body and the desires that go with it. Krishna reminds him thatresistance to his duty, that is, refusal to go into battle is futile becauseArjuna’s nature compels him to it. Krishna spurns Arjuna to go against hiswill and do what his heart forbids. Arjuna learns to take refuge in Krishna andto commit fully to him.
Krishna vows that Arjuna will be received to him in goodtime. “Arjuna, have you listened with you full powers of reason? Has thedelusion of ignorance now been destroyed?” “Krishna, my delusion isdestroyed, and by your grace I have regained memory; I stand here, my doubtdispelled, ready to act on your words. ” (The Bhagavad-Gita, p. 153) ThusArjuna, through his discourse with the god Krishna, accepted his duty withdevotion and learned how to overcome his desire, while freeing himself from allworldly suffering.