The Beginning of the Instruction
The second chapter of the Gītā has four main aspects.
- The remainder of the first chapter’s topic, i.e. Arjuna’s words of abandoning battle.
- Propounding the eternal nature of the Self (ātmā)
- The necessity of performing one’s own dharma
- The nature of the knower of reality
Let us look at this one by one.
Arjuna’s Wish to Give Up
The story of Arjuna’s depression continues in the first nine verses. When Arjuna dropped his bow and arrows and sat immersed in sorrow, Śrīkṛṣṇa objected. He said, “Arjuna, how did this mental impurity come upon you? This does not befit an ārya. This is not conducive to attain higher realms. This causes infamy. Discard this cowardice. Cast off this lowly weakness of the heart and rise for battle!”
Arjuna replied, “O Kṛṣṇa, how can I bring myself shoot the worshipful Bhīṣma and Droṇa with my arrows? If we, by not killing preceptors, have to subsist on alms, even then, such food obtained from begging is far better than food mixed with their blood. Should we win over our enemies or be won over by them? Which path is better for us? Kṛṣṇa, who are our enemies? Those upon killing whom we do not wish to live! My nature has been overcome by the taint of selfish pity that is the nature of compassion for “me and mine” (kārpaṇya-dōṣōpahata-svabhāvaḥ). I have become confused about what dharma is owing to this self-love. What of a kingdom on earth or the position of Indra in svarga? I do not see anything that can cure me of my sorrow that is drying up all my senses.” He then said,
na yotsye! (BG 2.9)
“I will not fight!”
and sat silently. The first part of the second chapter ends here.
Now, Bhagavān again set forth to give instruction.
aśōcyān-anvaśōcas-tvam (BG 2.11)
“You grieve for those who should not be grieved for!”
What does this mean? Should one not grieve for his preceptors and relatives? Should one become stony-hearted?
It is natural for the heart to melt with compassion. However, in some instances, one should harden his heart. The battle for dharma is such an instance.
War is an occasion that involves several groups of people. Floods, fire accidents, earthquakes, and epidemics are disasters that the Divine imposes to punish groups of people. A single person’s action also affects people other than the doer when it yields results.
kaṛtā kārayitā caiva prerakaś-cānumodakaḥ
The performer of the action,
one who causes the action to be performer,
the one who urges it, and
the one who approves of it,
[all share equal responsibility
in good and bad deeds]
Individual karma (actions) bear individual fruit; group actions yield group results. Though Duryodhana and his brothers were the main actors in the war, Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Karṇa, Śalya, and others joined forces with them regardless of whether they liked it. The same happened in their rival camp. While a few joined for the cause of dharma, there were others who joined either side for revenge, glory, or other reasons. Death was perilously close to both sides. In this episode of dharma, who were the śocyas (ones to grieve for)? Who were the aśocyas (those who should not be grieved for)? Who? None were to be grieved for. Those who died there were not to be grieved for. Why? Death comes for a few as deliverance from their demerits. For others death results in a better path. Duryodhana, Duśśāsana and others would have continued to commit sinful actions as long as they lived. The seed of impurity had existed in them across lives. They had to be divested of their armour (body) to help them get rid of their pāpa. Death became a means for this. Death in battle was the only way for them to redeem themselves from this situation of pāpa.
Thus death redeems the evil from the clutches of evilness. Therefore it is not necessary to grieve for it.
Even for those who are virtuous, death is helpful. Bhīṣma and Droṇa were great souls and deserved higher worlds. But they had to inhabit earth due to a residue of their karma of previous lives. Once they had exhausted their karma, they would once again become eligible for those higher worlds. Hence for those righteous, death obtained in a war of dharma helps attain heaven and better worlds. Hence sorrow is not proper even in this situation.
When is grieving appropriate, when is it proper? The answer is: Never. It is of course another matter that it cannot be avoided. It cannot be argued that all things that are natural are correct as well. There are so many bodily actions that are natural but undesirable. It is the same with mental actions too. All things natural cannot be accepted. Sorrow upon bereavement is natural. But it is wise to mitigate one’s sorrow after considering the progression of a jīva and the law of nature. Bhagavān now teaches this wisdom through a description of the ātmā that is the essence of the jīva.
The Eternality of the Ātmā
The instruction now begins. Arjuna asks four important questions:
- Isn’t violence or killing beings a misdeed?
- Isn’t compassion our dharma?
- Shouldn’t selfish desires be discarded?
- Isn’t dharma the biggest value?
Śrī-kṛṣṇa had to answer these questions.
Arjuna had all the following mental qualities: fear of doing evil, compassion towards beings, selflessness, and faith in dharma, which are accepted by all to be the best of qualities. Did such a man, endowed with such admirable qualities, need instruction? Yes. Because Arjuna possessed those qualities not as results of his own deliberations but because he was impelled by his own natural condition and also by imitating others. All of us are mostly like that. There are a few naturally friendly tendencies within us. We normally refer to that as a “tug at one’s heartstrings.” While that behaviour is devoid of any pretense, we should not consider that feeling to be completely pure. There is quite likely an iota of selfishness or a particle of pride or a piece of egotism that is non-obvious and latent in such behaviour. Friendship becomes pure and wholesome only after this aspect of self-interest is removed after a thorough examination. We learn several behaviours from those around us. We form our opinions through others. Any action or habit or opinion or belief should not be construed as pure or as being conducive to welfare just because it follows popular convention. We should have independently analysed it and understood its good aspects. Thus our behaviours and opinions must be a result of a proper examination.
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.