The First Teaching: The War Within
Dhritarashtra, Kaurava’s blind father, asks Sanjaya to tell him about the battle that is about to begin.
Your son Duryodhana tells his teacher, Drona, to look at his other pupils, Pandavas, the mighty archers and many other brave kings, all commanding great chariots. He tells Drona of the superb men and mighty leaders on their side that include Drona’s son and many others who are risking their lives for prince’s sake. All brave warriors bear weapons and all are skilled in the ways of the war. Duryodhana boasts that his army is limitless and says that the army of Pandavas is limited.
At this moment the great sire Bhishma roars his lion’s roar and blows his conch horn. Upon hearing the sound Duryodhana is delighted.
At once conches and kettledrums, cymbals, tabors and trumpets are played and the sound of tumult arises.
On the great chariot yoked with white stallions stand Krishna and Arjuna. They sound their divine conches. Yudhishthira, Bhima, Nakul and Sahadeva, Arjuna’s four brothers, also blow their distinctive conches. So do their sons and grandsons.
The noise tears the hearts of Dhritarashtra’s hundred sons Kauravas, and tumult echoes through heaven and earth.
Arjuna sees Dhritarashtra’s sons assembled, as weapons are ready to clash. He lifts his bow. He says to his charioteer, “Krishna, halt my chariot between the armies, far enough for me to see these men who lust for war and are ready to fight.”
Krishna halts their splendid chariot between the armies. They face the great sire Bhishma and the venerable teacher Drona and all the great kings and Kuru men assembled there.
Arjuna surveys his elders and kinsmen, cousins and companions in both armies assembled together. He is filled with strange pity and feels dejected.
Arjuna says to his charioteer, “Krishna, my limbs sink, my mouth is parched, my body trembles, the hair bristles on my flesh stand on end. The magic blow slips from my hand, my skin burns, I cannot stand still, my mind whirls. I see omens of chaos, Krishna; I see no good in killing my kinsmen in battle.
O Krishna, I have no desire for victory or kingdom or pleasures. What use is a kingdom, or pleasure or life itself if those for whose sake we desire these things are engaging in this battle?
They are teachers, fathers, sons, grandfathers, uncles, grandsons, fathers and other men of our family. I do not want to kill them even if I am killed. Krishna, I do not want to kill them even for kingship of the three worlds. How much less for the earth alone?
What joy is there for us in killing Dhritarashtra’s sons? Evil will haunt us if we kill them even though they are evil. How can we gain happiness if we kill members of our own family? Greed may distort their reason, blind them to the sin they commit in ruining the family and betraying friends. But we see this evil. How can we ignore the wisdom of turning from this evil that would destroy the family?”
When a family is ruined, ancient traditions perish. With them are lost spiritual foundations of life and family loses its sense of unity.
Where there is no sense of unity chaos overwhelms the family. In chaos, women of the family are corrupted and when women are corrupted the intermixture of caste is the inevitable result. The intermixture drags the family and its violators to hell; the spirit of the ancestors fall, deprived of the offerings rice and water. Disorder in the family creates disorder in society.
Social chaos is hell for the family. It disrupts the process of spiritual evolution begun by ancestors. It is said that those whose family dharma is destroyed their place is in hell. Out of the greed for pleasures of a kingdom we are prepared to kill our family members. It would be better if my cousins kill me in battle, unarmed and unresisting.”
Overwhelmed with sorrow Arjuna lays down his bow and arrows. He slumps into his chariot in the middle of the battlefield, his mind overwhelmed with grief.
As I Understand It
We watch, as a catastrophic war is about to begin. We watch the conflicted warrior, Arjuna, whose duty is to fight but he sees no point in killing. He symbolizes Everyman, an ordinary man, who has questions about not only the meaninglessness of war but also the meaning of life and human being’s true nature.
The perennial war between the forces of light and darkness are in every human heart. This beginning chapter is a bridge from the outer conflict of making the choice to kill and face the consequences to the inner battle between good and evil we struggle with each day.
The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna Counsel in Time of War, Translation and Introduction by Barbara Stoler Miller, Bantam Books, 1986. Bantam Doubleday Dell Group, Inc. New York.
The Bhagavad Gita, Translated for the Modern Reader, with general introduction by Eknath Easwaran, chapter introductions by Diana Morrison. Nilgiri Press, 1996 (1st Pub. 1985). Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, California.