Chapter 1. Yoga of Inconsiderate Compassion (Part 2)

This article is part 14 of 16 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

At this point, as an example of the severity of the result of one’s own experience, we can recollect the episode of the blind king Dhṛtarāṣṭra. Vyāsa offered to give him the capability to witness the scenes in the battlefield.

yadi tv-icchasi saṅgrāme draṣṭum-enaṃ viśāmpate
cakṣur-dadāni te hanta yuddham-etan-niśamaya
(Bhīṣma-parva 2.6)

Dhṛtarāṣṭra replied –

na rocaye jñāti-vadhaṃ draṣṭuṃ brahmarṣi-sattama
yuddham-etat-tv-aśeṣeṇa śṛṇuyāṃ tava tejasā
(Bhīṣma-parva 2.7)

I do not want to watch the massacre of kinsmen with my own eyes but I am interested in the war. Therefore, grace me so that I can hear about the occurrences in the war. Acceding to this request, Vyāsa bestowed upon Sañjaya the capability to view the battle from afar and arranged for him to narrate it to Dhṛtarāṣṭra.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra was Arjuna’s senior. He was older and more experienced. Therefore, he did not want to witness the horrors of the battle with his own eyes. The effect of sight on the mind is more acute than that of hearing. The eyes cannot bear as much as the ears do.

The reasons that Arjuna gave to justify his aversion for war are required to be pondered upon by all those who are desirous of knowing about dharma

  1. It is not good to kill one’s own relatives.
  2. Na kāṅkṣe vijayam” – I do not desire to win.
  3. Kiṃ no rājyena kiṃ bhogaiḥ” – What is the use of kingdom and enjoyment?
  4. Kiṃ jīvitena” – What is the use of living?
  5. Pāpam-evāśrayedasmān” – We will only accrue sin by this battle.
  6. Lobhopahata-cetasaḥ” – Should we become afflicted by avarice?
  7. Kula-kṣaya-kṛtaṃ dośaṃ” – Corruption that causes the annihilation of the entire clan.
  8. Mitra-drohe ca pātakam” – The pāpa of betraying friends.
  9. Kula-dharmāḥ praṇaśyanti” – The dharma of the entire race will be destroyed.
  10. Dharme naṣṭe adharmo’bhibhavati” – When dharma is destroyed, adharma will dominate.
  11. Praduṣyanti kula-striyaḥ” – Virtuous women will also debase themselves.
  12. Jāyate varṇa-saṅkaraḥ” – Different varṇas will mix together.
  13. Saṅkaro narakāyaiva” – This inter-mingling will pave the way to naraka.
  14. Patanti pitaraḥ” – The pitṛs will be dragged down.
  15. Utsādyante jāti-dharmāḥ kula-dharmāś-ca” – The individual dharmas of different jātis and clans will be ruined.

And so on and so forth.

In this list of the evils of war, there is no mention of mokṣa; there is no thirst to know oneself; nor is there a dialogue about human nature. This is what we have to always keep in mind because the Gītā discusses these three key points. Why did they appear in Kṛṣṇa’s answer although they were not present in Arjuna’s question? To know this, we have to completely understand the fundamental parts of Arjuna’s question. The feelings hidden in the above list of Arjuna's arguments may be divided into four groups –

  1. The necessity of pity
  2. Being scared of pāpa
  3. Being detached from worldly enjoyment
  4. Being rooted in dharma, having deep śraddhā in it

Which of these four can we reject? Haven’t we always been taught that we should practise the above four qualities? What is the deficiency in Arjuna's argument then? Why did Kṛṣṇa not agree to it?

The first chapter of the Gītā has always been called the ‘Yoga of Arjuna’s despondency.’ True, there is despondency here. But is it the sole subject this chapter deals with? There is a reason behind Arjuna’s despair. There is also a direction to it. We should understand both.

The outcome of Arjuna’s excessive pity was his reluctance to fight. By killing, he would not only lose his loved ones but also invite pāpa. Arjuna also wanted to escape from this pāpa. Is this endorsed by dharma? In a righteous war, is killing adharma? Is there any situation where killing a living being becomes dharma? This has to be deliberated upon. Had Arjuna understood the nature of dharma? Were the doubts he had about the duties of a kṣatriya correct? What is dharma? It becomes necessary to contemplate upon this.

Distress can be caused by anything. It can be caused by the feeling of inadequacy of strength, or by a hesitation that the gods may not be pleased; or by the hopelessness that he may not be a partner to profit in future; or the fear that he himself may be injured or even die. None of these were the reasons for Arjuna’s despair; it was caused by excessive love. Sañjaya describes him thus –

taṃ tathā kṛpayāviṣṭam... (BG 2.1)

Arjuna is completely controlled by his love and pity. Kṛṣṇa's answer is that his pity is unfounded there. There is no doubt that mercy is a fine quality. But it is acceptable if it is exercised upon a worthy object in a worthy manner, not otherwise.

Pity is a kind of mental alteration. It has to be born, by itself, within us. It does not need outside force or even any influence. As Bhavabhūti said,

vyatiṣajati padārthān-āntaraḥ ko’pi hetur-
na khalu bahir-upādhīn prītayaḥ saṃśrayante

(Uttara-rāma-carita 6.12)

The thread that binds people together is something that is within their hearts. Love is not based on outward support. That inward object is brought into being by Nature. Just because it is natural, it cannot be concluded that such pity is acceptable or beneficial. Whether something is beneficial or hurtful should be decided only after due contemplation. Arjuna's pity, in that sense, is not brought about by deliberation. It was an impulse of the moment. Impulse is hasty and is not enough to cultivate belief. Proper consideration and reflection should eliminate the improprieties of the emotion. Emotion thus justified by discrimination becomes acceptable.

Probably with this in mind, Śrī Yāmunācārya calls Arjuna’s pity ‘asthāna-kāruṇya’ – compassion at a wrong time and wrong place. Arjuna’s intemperate and inconsiderate pity can be classified as a sentiment. Sentiment is emotion, or even excessive emotion. The heart when it does not submit itself to being examined by the head becomes agitated, it is sentimental. Bhagavān calls this ‘hṛdaya-daurbalya’ – weakness of the heart. The softer the heart, the shallower it is, the weaker it becomes. We can call it the quagmire of tears. It may be said that this kind of flaccidity and unsteadiness is characteristic of our times.

To be continued...

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.

About:

Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

Prekshaa Publications

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...