The Gita was spoken on the eve of the Great Mahabharata War. Therefore we find in the very first verse of the Gita, King Dhritarashtra seeking information about the War from Sanjaya who had received the gift of divine vision. The two armies are gathered on the battlefield; what are their first moves, this is what the old king is eager to know. In the eyes of the educated man in modern India, educated that is on the English pattern, Sanjaya’s gift of divine vision is no more than a poetic fancy. If we had said that such and such a person gifted with clairvoyance and clairaudience was able to present before his senses the frightful scenes and war-cries of the great heroes in a distant battlefield, then perhaps the statement would not have been so unworthy of credence. And one is inclined to dismiss as a still more absurd story that this power had been given to Sanjaya by the great Vyasa. Had we said that a famous European scientist having hypnotised such and such a person came to have some description of that distant event from his mouth, then perhaps those who have studied with care something about hypnotism in the West might have lent some credence. And yet, hypnotism is simply one of those undesirable elements of Yogic power that have to be rejected. There are hidden within man many such powers as were known to civilised peoples in ancient times and developed by them. But that knowledge has been washed away in the flood of ignorance born of Kali, the Age of Darkness, it has been preserved only in part within a limited circle as a secret lore that should be kept a secret.
There is a power of subtle vision beyond the gross physical sense organ, in a subtle organ through which we can bring within our ken objects and knowledge inaccessible to the gross organs of sense, can have vision of subtle things, can listen to subtle sounds, smell imperceptible smells, touch subtle physical objects, and have taste of subtle foods. The utmost development of subtle sight is what is called divine vision, through its power objects that are at a distance, secret objects or those belonging to another world come within the scope of our knowledge. We see no reason to disbelieve that the great sage Vyasa possessing supreme Yogic powers was capable of imparting this divine vision to Sanjaya. If we are not incredulous about the wonderful power of Western hypnosis, why should we be incredulous about the power of the great Vyasa with his incomparable knowledge? In every page of history and in every activity of human life there is available ample evidence that a powerful man can impart his power to another. Heroic men of action like Napoleon and Ito prepared collaborators in their work by imparting their own power to fit recipients. Even a very ordinary Yogin having obtained some special power can impart his power to another for a little while or for a special purpose, what to speak of the great Vyasa who was the world’s most accomplished genius and a man of extraordinary Yogic realisation.
In fact, the existence of this divine vision far from being an absurdity must be a scientific truth. We know that the eye does not see, it is not the ear that hears nor the nose that smells, the skin does not experience the sense of touch nor the tongue the feeling of taste; it is the mind that sees, the mind that hears, smells, feels the sense of touch or taste. This truth has been accepted by philosophy and psychology for a long time. In hypnotism it has been proved by practical scientific tests that the function of the organ of sight can be performed by any of the sensory nerves even when the eyes are shut. This goes only to prove that the gross organs of sense like the eye are simply convenient means for the acquisition of knowledge. We have become their slaves bound by a long habit of the gross physical body. But in reality we can convey the knowledge to the mind through any of the channels in the body, as the blind can get by the touch an accurate idea of the nature and shape of things.
But this difference may be noticed between the blind man’s “sight” and that of a man in a state of dream, namely, that the latter sees an image of the thing in his mind. This precisely is what is called seeing. In actual fact, I do not see the book in front of me, it is on seeing the image of the book reflected within my eyes that the mind says, “I have seen a book”. But this too is proved by the seeing and hearing of a distant object or event by one in a dreamstate that in order to obtain a knowledge of an object there is no necessity for any of the physical channels in the body; we can see through a subtle power of vision. Every day there are growing in number such examples as seeing mentally from a room in London events taking place at the time in Edinburgh. This is what is called subtle sight.
There is this difference between subtle sight and divine vision that one possessing subtle sight sees the image of things invisible in his mind, whereas in divine vision, instead of seeing the things in our mind, we see them in front of the physical eye, instead of hearing the sounds as a current of thought we hear them with the physical ear. A simple instance of this is the seeing of contemporary events in a crystal or ink. But for a Yogi endowed with divine vision there is no need of such material aids, he can on developing this power become aware of events in another time and space by removing the bondage of space and time without any material aid. We have obtained enough evidence of this removal of the barrier of space; numerous and satisfactory proofs that the barrier of time too can be removed, that man can be a seer of the past, present and future have not yet been presented before the world. But if it is possible to remove the space barrier, it cannot be said that to remove the barrier of time is impossible.
In any case, with the divine vision given him by Vyasa, Sanjaya while remaining in Hastinapur saw with his eyes as if he were standing in the battlefield of Kurukshetra the partisans of Dhritarashtra and the Pandavas gathered there, heard with his ears the words of Duryodhana, the fierce battle-cry of grandfather Bhishma, the mighty sound of Panchajanya proclaiming the destruction of the Kurus, and the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna bringing out the import of the Gita.
In our opinion, the Mahabharata is not a metaphorical piece nor are Krishna and Arjuna the creations of poetic fancy, the Gita too is not the speculation of a modern logician or philosopher. Therefore we have to prove that anything said in the Gita is not impossible or against reason. It is for this reason that we have discussed at such length the question of possessing the divine vision.
The Cunning of Duryodhana’s Speech
Sanjaya began his description of those initial acts of war. Duryodhana on seeing the battle formations of the Pandavas presented himself before Dronacharya. Why he went to Drona needs an explanation. Bhishma was the commander-in-chief, it was he who should have been informed of matters concerning the war. But Duryodhana with his crooked mind had no faith in Bhishma. Bhishma had a fondness for the Pandavas, was the leader of the peace-party in Hastinapur. Had it been only a war between the Pandavas and Dhritarashtra’s sons, he would never have taken up arms. But on seeing the Kuru kingdom threatened by the Panchala nation the old enemy of the Kurus and their equal in the greed for empire, the most outstanding personality, warrior and statesman of the Kuru nation was determined to preserve till the end the glory and the supremacy of his own people by being appointed their commander-in-chief, even as he had guarded them for long with the strength of his arms. Duryodhana on his part was of an Asuric nature, to him the measure and motive of all acts were the feelings of attraction and repulsion, hence he was incapable of understanding the point of view of the great man and his devotion to duty. He could never believe that this man of hard austerity carried in his heart the strength to kill in the battlefield out of a sense of duty even the Pandavas who were to him as if his own self. One who has the good of his country at heart tries his utmost to make his people desist from injustice and evil by expressing his views in council, but once the injustice and the evil are accepted by the people he defends his nation and subdues its enemies even in unrighteous war without caring for his own personal opinions. Bhishma too had taken this line. But this attitude was beyond Duryodhana’s comprehension. Therefore instead of approaching Bhishma he thought of Drona.
Drona personally was a staunch enemy of the Panchala king, prince Dhrishtadyumna of the Panchalas was determined to kill his preceptor Drona. In other words, Duryodhana thought that if reminded of this personal enmity the teacher would give up all leanings towards peace and fight with all enthusiasm. He did not say this in so many words. He only mentioned Dhrishtadyumna by name, then in order to please Bhishma as well, described the latter as the defender of the Kuru kingdom and the hope of their victory. First he mentioned the names of the principal fighters among the enemy, then he uttered the names of some and not all of the commanders in his army; the names of Bhishma and Drona alone were enough for the success of his scheme, but he added four or five other names to hide his true purpose. Then he said, “My army is enormously big, Bhishma is my commander-in-chief, the Pandava army is comparatively small, their hopes centre round the strength of Bhima. Therefore why should not victory be ours? But as Bhishma is our mainstay, it devolves on everybody to protect him from enemy assaults. If he is there our victory is inevitable.” Many take the word “aparyāpta” in an opposite sense, this does not stand to reason. Duryodhana had a comparatively bigger army, the commanders of his troops were not inferior to any in courage or prowess. Why should the boastful Duryodhana go out of the way to create misgivings by deprecating his own strength?
Bhishma understood the secret motive behind Duryodhana’s words and the ideas he had in his mind; to remove his doubts he uttered the battle-cry and sounded his conchshell. This gave rise to joy in the heart of Duryodhana. He thought that his object had been met, Drona and Bhishma would give up their hesitation and fight.
The First Hints
As soon as the battlefield was shaken by the heavensplitting sound of Bhishma’s conch, there sounded on all sides of the huge Kaurava host the instruments of war music and the men in their chariots began to feel elated by the excitement of battle. On the other side, the greatest hero of the Pandavas and his charioteer Sri Krishna sounded their conches as an answer to Bhishma’s call to the fray, and Yudhisthira and the other heroes on the Pandava side awakened the war-lust in the hearts of their troops by blowing their own conches. That mighty report resounded over earth and sky as if rending the hearts of Dhritarashtra’s sons. This does not mean that it frightened men like Bhishma. They were heroic men, why should they be afraid of the fierce call to battle? In these words the poet has described the first powerful impact on the body of extremely high-pitched sound; just as the clap of thunder makes the hearer feel as if it were rending his head in two exactly alike was the impact of this mighty report spreading over the field of battle. And this was as if an announcement of the impending doom of Dhritarashtra’s men; the hearts that would be pierced by the Pandava missiles were rent asunder first by the sound of Pandava conches.
The war began. Missiles began to fly from both sides. At this juncture Arjuna said to Sri Krishna, “You please place my chariot at a point between the two armies. I wish to see who are our antagonists, who are they who have come to this war to act according to the pleasure of the misguided Duryodhana, who are those with whom I have to fight.” Arjuna’s idea was that the Pandavas centred their hopes on him alone and it was for him to kill the principal fighters on the opposite side, therefore he must see who these were. So far, Arjuna’s attitude was entirely that of a Kshatriya, there is not a sign of pity or weakness. Many of India’s most heroic men were present in the opposing army; Arjuna was keen on giving to elder brother Yudhisthira undisputed empire by killing them all. But Sri Krishna knew that Arjuna harboured a weakness in his mind; if this mind were not cleansed now, that weakness might suddenly come up from there and occupy the higher intelligence at any moment and this would cause great harm to the Pandavas, perhaps even lead to their ruin.
For this reason, Sri Krishna placed the chariot in such a place that those dear to Arjuna, like Bhishma and Drona, were just in front and at the same time all the other princes on the side of the Kauravas were within sight. And he said to Arjuna, “See and have a look at the Kuru clan gathered here.” It has to be recalled that Arjuna himself belonged to the Kuru clan, was a pride of the Kuru family; all his relatives, the men dear to him, the companions of his childhood belonged to the same Kuru clan; that will make one realise the profound idea and significance of these few ordinary words from Sri Krishna’s mouth. Arjuna could now see that those whom he has to kill in order to found the undisputed empire of Yudhisthira were none other than his own dear relatives, teachers, friends, the objects of love and devotion. He saw that the Kshatriya families of the whole of India were bound together by ties of affection and yet had come to that terrible field of battle to kill one another.
The Root Cause of Dejection
What is the source of Arjuna’s dejection? Many people are full of praise for this dejection of Arjuna and decry Sri Krishna as a supporter of unrighteousness and as showing the wrong path. The peaceful attitude of Christianity, the non-violence of Buddhism and the spirit of love in Vaishnava religion are alone the highest and best laws of right living, war and the killing of men are sins, the killing of one’s brothers and teachers are grievous sins: it is under the spell of ideas such as these that they make this improper statement. But all these modern ideas never even entered the mind of the great Pandava hero of that remote Dwapara epoch; there is in Arjuna’s words no inkling of any signs that he even considered whether non-violence was to be preferred to war, or whether one should desist from war because the killing of brothers and teachers or homicide in general were grievous sins. He did indeed say that it would be better to live by begging than to slaughter one’s elders, he said indeed that the sin of killing the relatives and friends would fall on them. But he said these words not from a consideration of the nature of these works, but by judging them by the results. That is why in order to break his gloom, Sri Krishna taught him this lesson that one should not look to the fruit of works, one has to decide whether a particular act is right or wrong by looking into its nature.
Arjuna’s first thoughts were that these were his relatives, elders, friends, companions of childhood, all were the objects of his affection, love or devotion; to obtain undisputed empire by slaughtering them and the enjoyment of such empire could never be a source of pleasure, on the contrary one would burn with life-long repentance and sorrow, for nobody would care to have dominion over earth bereft of all friends and kin. His second idea was that to kill the dear ones was against the right law of living, to kill in battle those who were the objects of enmity was the law of the Kshatriya. His third point was that to perform such acts to gain one’s own ends was against the right law and improper for a Kshatriya; and the fourth was that this antagonism and slaughter of brothers would lead to the destruction of clans and ruin of nations; to be the occasion for such untoward results was a grievous sin for a Kshatriya hero, the protector of the clan and nation. Apart from these four notions, there was none other behind the despondency of Arjuna. Not to understand this is to miss the purport of Sri Krishna’s teaching and his aim. We shall speak later of the conflict or harmony between the Gita’s law and that of Christianity, Buddhism and Vaishnavism. Here we shall elucidate Arjuna’s attitude of mind by looking into the purport of his words by a careful scrutiny.
(to be continued…)