It is claimed often that ours is an Age of Science, an era of intellectual superiority. On the one hand, the intellect is mighty but on the other hand, the mind is fragile. Our times despise difficulties. Let nothing be difficult, may everything be easy – a piece of cake – this is today’s mindset.
This starts in our schools. Indian languages have the letters cha, bha, kṣa, hra – who needs these letters? They weary the children.
Let us not chastise students for anything. They have to be reformed by bribes of candy and sweets. Let us spare the rod even if it spoils the child.
Skin exposed to the sun and wind will become rough. Let us keep it covered always.
It is perturbing to be asked to brush one’s teeth before breakfast. Let people eat whenever they want, brush their teeth whenever they want.
Thus flows the river of pity in spate!
Why should one obtain forty out of a hundred marks to pass? It is enough if she manages ten!
There should be a manure shop right next to a shop that sells fine musk. That is equality.
Let the man who has never had a bath in his life rub the body of a man who bathes daily. Isn’t that brotherhood?
If the daughter says that she does not want to marry someone who is not a billionaire, can we ask her to marry a millionaire? If we do force her, what will become of individual freedom?
If there is an unjust conflict between countries, let us prattle about peace and non-violence and not even raise the subject of war. Let our weapons rust even if our hearts simmer.
Why does the Creator give legs to humans? It is because of legs that we have to walk and strain ourselves. Instead of that, let us design a machine in a car that will lift people and seat them within.
Why should the Supreme create horses? Horse-riding is dangerous and fatiguing. Let men fly without the least exertion.
Why do we need snacks like chakli or puḻḻaṅgāyi? They exhaust the teeth. Can we not suck tasty candy instead?
If a debtor does not repay his loans, do not demand that from him! Let him not fear about being jailed. Scaring is torturing. Let us take pity on him and loan him more money.
Let murderers not be afraid of execution. Let us give them asylum with tasty food and warm shelter so that he does not feel any grief.
The police should not incarcerate dacoits and cause them undue hardship. They should beg them to become good citizens.
Workers should forget that they are working and behave as though they are masters. Let the company run into losses, it does not matter. The happiness of the comrades is paramount.
The stone-hearted Rāma sent Sītā to the forest in a cruel manner. Why should we worship him?
The river of pity flows further. This is the weakness of the soul, the fragility of the mind. It is not manliness.
If a human soul has to become strong, it should be ready to face difficulties.
nāyam-ātmā bala-hīnena labhyaḥ...
A coward cannot grasp dharma. It needs courage and intelligence. The bones of a lazy man are soft; he is not capable of taking on challenges or fighting in wars. He cannot protect dharma.
Only the tāmasika and rājasika qualities of humans cause war, not sāttvika. When sattva is prominent, there is no conflict. Even if there is one, it is resolved quickly. Rajas and tamas do not end like that. They understand the language of the stick, not that of guidance. The predominant trait of Duryodhana and Duśśāsana is tāmasika, not sāttvika. For such rulers guided by their baser instincts, any medicine other than war would be useless. Therefore, there was no means to correct them except stringent punishment.
A great man said, “What is dharma without mercy?” A philosopher said, “What sort of mercy is it, without dharma?” Thus, to aid in the goal of establishing dharma, just as there is a place for mercy, there is also a place for punishment. Courage is the first quality needed in a person who wants to protect dharma. A man who flees without fighting on seeing injustice and adharma is not merciful but is actually encouraging adharma.
This, then, is the mental state of Arjuna. His is not compassion bestowed on people worthy of it but pity shown towards people who are entirely undeserving of it. Bhagavān himself proclaims that one should exercise due discretion whether the recipient is worthy of pity.
deśe kāle ca pātre ca tad-dānaṃ sāttvikaṃ smṛtam॥ (BG 17.20)
This philosophy had been forgotten by Arjuna.
Arjuna’s thought was that of pity but the circumstances were not right. Pāyasam is good to eat and digest, not to smear on the body. This discrimination – of finding the right place to do the right thing is the basis of dharma.
That Arjuna’s dejection transformed into pity and detachment shows that his understanding was superior. His dispassion is not that of a coward or a weak person. The dejection of some people transforms itself into rage. In some others, it brings hopelessness and rigidity. Arjuna did not become depressed or angry. His words ‘Kiṃ bhogair-jīvitena vā’ do not have any philosophical curiosity. His mind is uncertain about dharma. That had to be remedied. The reason for the uncertainty was the pity that arose in him.
Like anger, pity is also a mental change. In normal human circumstances, it may be a good sentiment. There is no dharma without mercy, but mercy should not be unrefined. The pity that animals and birds show to their young ones is artless and unrefined. Mother Nature has placed this unthinking inclination in all living organisms. In lower organisms, the purpose of this natural inclination is to nurture the offspring. In humans, if this natural inclination works independently of discrimination it can cause confusion and have adverse consequences. Compassion not tempered by discrimination is unbridled infatuation and delusion – that is partiality; that is the confused view; that is the thorn in the way of justice. Therefore, Bhagavān felt that the juice of compassion that swelled in Arjuna out of his natural inclination had to be filtered by viveka. Mental alterations have to be purified by philosophy – that is the subject of the next chapter.
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.