taṁ tathā kṛpayāviṣṭamaśrupūrṇākulekṣaṇam
viṣīdantamidaṁ vākyamuvāca madhusūdanaḥ (2. 01)
To him thus besieged with pity and his eyes full bewildered with crowding tears, to him weak with sorrow, Madhusudana spake this word.
kutastvā kaśmalamidaṁ viṣame samupasthitam
anāryajuṣṭamasvargyamakīrtikaramarjuna (2. 02)
The Lord said:
Whence has this stain of darkness come upon thee in the very crisis and the stress, O Arjuna, this weakness unheavenly, inglorious, quality of un-Aryan minds?
klaibyaṁ mā sma gamaḥ pārtha naitattvayyupapadyate
kṣudraṁ hṛdayadaurbalyaṁ tyaktvottiṣṭha paraṁtapa (2. 03)
Fall not into coward impotence, O Partha; not on thee does that sit well; fling from thee the miserable weakness of thy heart, O scourge of thy foes.
Sri Krishna’s Answer
Sri Krishna saw that Arjuna had been seized with pity, dejection had overcome him. To chase away this tamasic state, He who was aware of the innermost feelings gave His dear friend a rebuke befitting a Kshatriya, that it might awaken the rajasic sentiments and drive away Tamas. He said in effect, “Look, this is a time of crisis for those who are on your side. If you give up your arms now, there is every possibility of danger and destruction for them. The idea of renouncing your cause in the field of battle should not occur to one like you who is best among Kshatriyas. Whence this sudden perversion of mind? Your attitude is full of weakness, it is sinful. Un-Aryan men can laud such an attitude, may subject themselves to it. But it is unworthy of an Aryan. It means an end to fame and glory in this world, it stands in the way of heaven in the next.” Thereafter, he administered a still more severe rebuke: “This is an attitude fit for a coward. You are the foremost among courageous men, you are a conqueror, you are the son of Kunti. Such words can come from your mouth? Give up this weakness of the vital being, get up. Give yourself to the work to be done.”
Pity and Compassion
Pity and compassion are different kinds of feeling, pity can be a feeling even contrary to compassion. Moved by compassion we do good to the world, remove the sufferings of men, of the nation, of others. If I shrink from doing that good from inability to bear my own sufferings or those of any particular individuals, then I have no compassion, I have only been seized by pity. I take upon myself the task of removing the sufferings of my country or of the entire human race: that is the attitude of compassion. From fear of bloodshed, from fear of doing violence to living beings, I desist from that sacred task, acquiesce in the permanence of the nation’s sorrows: this is the attitude of pity. The strong impulse to remove the sufferings of men out of sorrow for their sufferings is called compassion. To feel a sense of helpless weakness at the sight or thought of others’ sufferings is known as pity. Weak helplessness is not compassion, it is pity. Compassion is the way of the strong, pity the manner of the weak. Moved by compassion the Lord Buddha left his wife and child, parents and friends and relatives to pine for him in sorrow with everything taken away, and set out to remove the sufferings of the world. Maddened by intense compassion, Kali went about the worlds killing the titans and flooded the earth with their blood in order to free all from sorrow. Arjuna had renounced arms under the influence of pity.
This is an attitude lauded by the un-Aryan, the un-Aryan acts accordingly. The Aryan teaching has nobility, it is fit for heroes, it is a divine teaching. The un-Aryan falls into a delusion, he describes ignoble sentiments as the right law and forsakes the noble path. The un-Aryan moved by rajasic feelings considers the good of himself, his dear ones, his family or clan, does not see the larger good. He turns his face away from the right law out of pity, boasts of himself as a man of piety, calls the Aryan of austere vows a cruel and impious man. Losing his senses under a tamasic delusion, the un-Aryan describes inaction as disinterestedness in works, assigns to the interested pursuit of virtue the highest position among the rules of right living. Compassion is an Aryan attitude, pity an un-Aryan sentiment.
Moved by compassion, man engages heroically in battle with evil in order to destroy the evils and sufferings of others. Moved by compassion, woman pours all her heart and energies into the service of loving care and in the attempt to do good to others and lighten their sorrows. One, who under the influence of pity gives up his arms, turns away from the right path, starts weeping and thinks he is doing his duty and is virtuous, such a one is an impotent coward. This is a mean sentiment, it is an attitude of weakness. Despondency can never be the right law. He who gives umbrage to despair gives umbrage to sin. To reject this clouding of the mind, this impure and weak attitude, to join in the fray and carry out one’s duty, to save thereby the world, to protect the Law, to lighten the burden of earth, this is the better way. This is the purport of these words of Sri Krishna.
kathaṁ bhīṣmamahaṁ saṁkhye droṇaṁ ca madhusūdana
iṣubhiḥ pratiyotsyāmi pūjārhāvarisūdana (2. 04)
How shall I combat Bhisma in the fight and Drona, O Madhusudana, how shall I smite with arrows those venerable heads?
gurūnahatvā hi mahānubhāvān
śreyo bhoktuṁ bhaikṣyamapīha loke
bhuñjīya bhogān rudhirapradigdhān (2. 05)
Better were it, not piercing these great and worshipped hearts, to eat even a beggar’s bread on this our earth. I slay our earthly wealth and bliss when I slay these; bloodstained will be the joys I shall taste.
na caitad vidmaḥ kataran no garīyo
yad vā jayema yadi vā no jayeyuḥ
yān eva hatvā na jijīviṣāmas
te’vasthitāḥ pramukhe dhārtarāṣṭrāḥ (2. 06)
Therefore we know not which of these is better, that we should be victors or that we should be vanquished: for they whom slaying we should have no heart to live, lo, they Dhritarashtrians face us in the foeman’s van.
yac chreyaḥ syān niścitaṁ brūhi tan me
śiṣyas te’haṁ śādhi māṁ tvāṁ prapannam (2. 07)
Pain and unwillingness have swept me from natural self, my heart is bewildered as to right and wrong; thee then I question. Tell me what would surely be my good, for I am thy disciple; teach me, for in thee I have sought my refuge.
na hi prapaśyāmi mamāpanudyād
rājyaṁ surāṇāmapi cādhipatyam (2. 08)
I see not what shall banish from me the grief that parcheth up the senses, though I win on earth rich kingship without rival and empire over the very gods in heaven.
Arjuna’s Prayer to be Taught
Arjuna understood the purpose behind Sri Krishna’s words. He refrained from raising the objection on political grounds, but on receiving no answer to his other objections, he took refuge with Sri Krishna for being instructed. He said, “I admit I am a Kshatriya, to desist from this great work under the influence of pity is for me an act of cowardice, an infamy, against the Law. But neither the mind nor my heart would admit it. The mind says, ‘The killing of elders is a heinous sin, to kill them for the sake of one’s own happiness would be to fall into impiety, it would be to lose everything, virtue and release from bondage and the other worlds. The desires would be satisfied, the hankering after wealth would be met, but for how long? Enjoyments obtained through unrighteous means can last only until death, after that there is indescribable suffering. And when in the course of enjoyments you taste the blood of your elders in them, what is the peace or happiness you will get?’ The heart says, ‘These are my dear ones. If they are killed, I shall not be able to enjoy happiness in this life, nor would I want to live. If you give me the enjoyment of empire over the whole earth or give me the pleasure of Indra’s riches by the conquest of heaven, even then I will not listen. The grief that will be overtaking me will overcome and weaken all the organs of action and knowledge and make them slack and incapable in their respective work. What will then be your enjoyment?’ I am faced with a great unwillingness of mind, the nobility of my Kshatriya nature has been drowned in that unwillingness. I take refuge with thee. Give me knowledge, strength and faith, show me the path to the good, save me.” To see in God one’s entire refuge is the way of the Gita’s yoga. This is called the surrender or offering of one’s self. One who accepts God as the teacher, lord, friend and guide and is prepared to throw away all other rules of living, one who hands over to Sri Krishna all responsibility for one’s knowledge, work and the spiritual endeavour without caring for sin and virtue, what is to be done or not to be done, all right and wrong, truth and falsehood, good or evil, he alone is fit for the Gita’s yoga. Arjuna said to Sri Krishna, “If you ask me to kill even my preceptors, if you make me understand that this is the right and the thing to be done, I shall act accordingly.” On the strength of this intense faith, Arjuna was accepted as the best recipient of the Gita’s teaching, having overpassed all the great men who were his contemporaries.
In his reply, Sri Krishna first disposed of two of Arjuna’s objections, then he took charge as teacher and began to impart the real knowledge. The disposal of the arguments takes us to verse 38, after that begins the teaching of the Gita. But we find in the answer to the objections some invaluable teachings; unless these are grasped the Gita’s teaching cannot be understood. It is therefore necessary to consider these few words in detail.
evamuktvā hṛṣīkeśaṁ guḍākeśaḥ paraṁtapaḥ
na yotsya iti govindamuktvā tūṣṇīṁ babhūva ha (2. 09)
Thus Gudakesha to Hrishikesha, the scourger of his foes said unto Govinda, “I will not fight”, and ceased from Words.
tamuvāca hṛṣīkeśaḥ prahasanniva bhārata
senayorubhayormadhye viṣīdantamidaṁ vacaḥ (2. 10)
On him thus overcome with weakness in the midmost of either battle, Krishna smiled a little and said:
aśocyānanvaśocastvaṁ prajñāvādāṁśca bhāṣase
gatāsūnagatāsūṁśca nānuśocanti paṇḍitāḥ (2. 11)
The Lord said:
Thou grievest for whom thou shouldst not grieve and yet speakest wise-seeming words, but the wise grieve not, whether for the dead or for the living.
natvevāhaṁ jātu nāsaṁ na tvaṁ neme janādhipāḥ
na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ sarve vayamataḥ param (2. 12)
It is not that I was not before, nor thou nor these lords of the folk, nor yet that we shall not be again hereafter.
dehino’sminyathā dehe kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
tathā dehāntaraprāptirdhīrastatra na muhyati (2. 13)
Even as the embodied spirit passes in this body to boyhood and youth and age, so also it passes away from this body to another; the strong man suffers not his soul to be clouded by this.
mātrāsparśāstu kaunteya śītoṣṇasukhaduḥkhadāḥ
āgamāpāyino’nityāstāṁstitikṣasva bhārata (2. 14)
But the things of material touch, O son of Kunti, which bring cold and warmth, pleasure and pain, they come and they pass; transient are they, these seek to abandon, O Bharata.
yaṁ hi na vyathayantyete puruṣaṁ puruṣarṣabha
samaduḥkhasukhaṁ dhīraṁ so’mṛtatvāya kalpate (2. 15)
The man whom these vex not, O lion of men, who is strong and receiveth sorrow and bliss as one, that man is ready for immortality.
nāsato vidyate bhāvo nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ
ubhayorapi dṛṣṭo’ntastvanayostattvadarśibhiḥ (2. 16)
For that which is not there is no coming into being, and for that which is there is no ceasing to be; yea, of both of these the lookers into truth have seen an end.
avināśi tu tadviddhi yena sarvamidaṁ tatam
vināśamavyayasyāsya na kaścitkartumarhati (2. 17)
But That in which all this universe is extended, know to be imperishable; none hath force to bring to nought the One who decays not neither passes away.
antavanta ime dehā nityasyoktāḥ sarīriṇaḥ
anāśino’prameyasya tasmādyudhyasva bhārata (2. 18)
Transient are these bodies of the embodied Spirit; the Spirit is infinite and imperishable; arise therefore, and fight, O son of Bharata.
ya enaṁ vetti hantāraṁ yaścainaṁ manyate hatam
ubhau tau na vijānīto nāyaṁ hanti na hanyate (2. 19)
Who knoweth the Spirit as slayer and who decreeth Him to be slain, both of these discern not. He slayeth not, neither is He slain.
na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin
nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato’yaṁ purāṇo
na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre (2. 20)
He is not born nor dieth ever, nor having once been shall not be again. He is unborn, for ever and perpetual. He is the Ancient One who is not slain with the slaying of the body.
vedāvināśinaṁ nityaṁ ya enamajamavyayam
kathaṁ sa puruṣaḥ pārtha karh ghātayati hanti kam (2. 21)
He who knoweth Him to be imperishable, eternal, unborn and undecaying, whom doth that man, O Partha, slay or cause to be slain?
vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya
navāni gṛhṇāti naro’parāṇi
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāni
anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī (2. 22)
As a man casteth away from him his worn-out robes and taketh to him other and new raiment, so the embodied Spirit casteth away its worn-out bodies and goeth to other and new casings.
nainaṁ chindanti śastrāṇi nainaṁ dahati pāvakaḥ
na cainaṁ kledayantyāpo na śoṣayati mārutaḥ (2. 23)
Him the sword cleaveth not, Him the fire cannot burn, Him the water wetteth not, and the hot wind withereth not away.
acchedyo’yamadāhyo’yamakledyo’śoṣya eva ca
nityaḥ sarvagataḥ sthāṇuracalo’yaṁ sanātanaḥ (2. 24)
Indivisible, unconsumable, unmergible, unwitherable is He. He is for ever and everywhere, constant and moveth not, He is the One Sempiternal Being.
tasmādevaṁ viditvainaṁ nānuśocitumarhasi (2. 25)
He is unmanifest, unthinkable, unchangeable. If thou knowest Him as such, thou hast no cause to grieve.
atha cainaṁ nityājataṁ nityaṁ vā manyase mṛtam
tathāpi tvaṁ mahābāho naivaṁ śocitumarhasi (2. 26)
And now if yet thou deemest of the Spirit as ever born or ever dying, even so thou hast no cause to grieve for him, O Strong-armed.
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyurdhruvaṁ janma mṛtasya ca
tasmādaparihārye’rthe na tvaṁ śocitumarhasi (2. 27)
For of that which is born the death is certain, and of that which is dead, the birth is sure; therefore in a thing inevitable thou oughtest not to grieve.
avyaktādīni bhūtāni vyaktamadhyāni bhārata
avyaktanidhanānyeva tatra kā paridevanā (2. 28)
Unmanifested in their beginning are creatures, manifested in the middle, O Bharata; they become but unmanifest again at death; what room is there for lamentation?
āścaryavadvadati tathaiva cānyaḥ
śrutvāpyenaṁ veda na caiva kaścit (2. 29)
As a Mystery one seeth Him, as a Mystery another speaketh of Him, as a Mystery a third heareth of Him, but even with revelation not one knoweth Him.
dehī nityamavadhyo’yaṁ dehe sarvasya bhārata
tasmātsarvāṇi bhūtāni na tvaṁ śocitumarhasi (2. 30)
The embodied One is for ever unslayable in the body of every man, O Bharata; and from Him are all creatures; therefore thou hast no cause for grief.
The Unreality of Death
On hearing Arjuna’s words, Sri Krishna’s face betrayed signs of a smile, a smile that was amused yet happy. The Knower of the hearts of men recognised in Arjuna’s delusion the old delusion of mankind, so He smiled. That delusion is born of Sri Krishna’s own Maya; He has made man subject to this Maya in order to end the evils, the sorrows and weaknesses in the world through their experience and control. The attachments of the heart, the fear of death, the subjection to happiness and sorrow, the feeling of likes and dislikes, — ignorant movements such as these have found expression in Arjuna’s words. It is precisely these movements that have to be removed from the minds of men and the world made free of evil. To create favourable conditions for that auspicious work has Sri Krishna come and is going to reveal the Gita. But first the delusion that has been born in Arjuna’s mind has to be destroyed through an experience of it. Arjuna is Sri Krishna’s friend, the representative of humanity; to him will the Gita be revealed, he is the best recipient. But humanity has not yet become fit to grasp the meaning of the Gita, even Arjuna could not grasp the full meaning. The grief, sorrow and weakness that came to his mind have been experienced in full by men in the Kali age. Christianity has brought love, Buddhism has brought compassion, Islam has brought power; they have come in order to mitigate that experience of suffering. Now will begin the first phase of the Satya sub-period of Kali. The Lord is once again imparting the Gita to India, to the descendants of the Kuru race. If we prove ourselves capable of receiving it and holding to it, then the good of India, the good of the world will be its inevitable fruit.
Sri Krishna said, “Arjuna, you are counting virtue and sin like a pedant, you are talking about principles of life and death, trying to expound what will cause the nation good or harm; but your words do not bear evidence of any real knowledge, on the contrary, every word of yours is full of the deepest ignorance. Why not say frankly your heart is weak and overcome by grief, your mind turns away from what is to be done? There is no reason why you should argue like an ignoramus in the language of a man of knowledge in order to justify your weakness. Grief comes to the heart of every man, everyone regards death and separation as extremely frightful, life as of great value, grief as unbearable, duty as hard, achievement of self-interest as sweet; these make everyone feel happy or lament, laugh or weep, but no one can call these movements as sprung from knowledge. You are grieving for those for whom it is wrong to grieve. The wise man does not grieve for anyone, not for the dead nor for the living. He is aware of these facts: there is no death, no separation, no sorrow, we are immortal, eternally the same, we are the children of delight, children of immortality; we have come to this earth to play at hide and seek with life and death, with joy and sorrow, we are enacting a drama of laughter and weeping in the huge play-house of Nature, are tasting the delight of war and peace, love and dispute in our guise of friend and foe. This short period for which we live, not knowing where we shall go tomorrow or the day after on leaving the body, is but a moment in our eternal play, a short game, the sentiment of a few moments. We have been, we are, we shall be, eternally, for ever indestructible. We are the lords of Nature, masters of life and death, portions of God, inheritors of the past, present and future. Just as the body has its childhood, youth and old age, so is the getting of a new body. Death is only a name, we get afraid on hearing the name, feel sorrow; did we know the thing in itself, we would neither be afraid nor feel sorrow. If we wept over a boy on his becoming a youth as if he were dead, and cried. ‘Alas, where has he gone, that dear boy of ours, this young man is not that boy, where is my darling gone’, our behaviours would be described by everybody as ludicrous and caused by rank ignorance, because this change of condition is a law of Nature, one and the same conscious being remains unmoved within the body of the boy and the youth beyond all outer change. The man of knowledge on seeing the common man’s fear of death and sorrow at death considers his behaviour as equally ludicrous and caused by dark ignorance, because the change to another body is a law of Nature, in the gross and the subtle body one and the same conscious being remains unmoved beyond all external change. Children of immortality are we; who is to die, who can kill? Death cannot touch us, death is an empty report, death is a delusion, death is not.”
The Objects of Sense Perception
The conscious being is immobile, Nature is in movement. The immovable conscious being is seated within the movements of Nature. What the conscious being seated within Nature sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches with the five organs of sense, — he depends on Nature to take the delight of all that. We see forms, hear sounds, smell odours, taste the flavour, feel the touch. Sound, touch, form, flavour, smell, these are the five objects of sense enjoyment. The particular field of the sixth sense, the mind, is the impression of things. The field of the intelligence is thought. The mutual delight and eternal play of conscious being and nature are for having the experience and enjoyment of the five objects of sense, the impressions of mind and the thoughts. This enjoyment is of two kinds, pure and impure. In pure enjoyment there is no pleasure or pain, there is simply the delight that is the eternal principle of conscious being, is natural to it. In impure enjoyment pain and pleasure are there, dualities like heat and cold, hunger and thirst, grief and joy move and harass the impure enjoyer. Desire is the cause of impurity. Whoever has desire is impure, he is pure who has no desires. Desire creates likes and dislikes, under the influence of likes and dislikes, conscious being gets attached to objects of sense, the fruit of attachment is to become bound. Due to the bad habit of attachment the conscious being, when moved and harassed, even when grieved or suffering pain, is unable to renounce the cause of his pain, grief or harassment.
The State of Equality
Sri Krishna first made reference to the eternity of the Spirit, then he showed the way to loosen the bonds of ignorance. The various touches of the objects of sense are the cause of dualities like pain and pleasure. These touches are impermanent, they have both a beginning and an end, their attachment has to be renounced because of the impermanence. If we become attached to impermanent things, we feel pleased at their coming, their absence or loss gives us pain and sorrow. This is called the state of ignorance. There is a clouding of the eternal poise and ever-present delight of the undying Spirit, we remain engrossed in transient states and objects, drown ourselves in a sea of grief while pining at their loss. He who instead of being thus overcome can bear the touches of the objects of sense, that is, he who, while experiencing the dualities does not feel joy or sorrow, that man is freed from like and dislikes, by breaking the bonds of ignorance becomes capable of realising the eternal state and its delight, amṛtatvāya kalpate.
The Value of Equality
This equality is the first teaching of the Gita. Equality is the very basis of the spiritual discipline of the Gita. The school of the Stoics in Greece received this teaching from India and propagated the doctrine of equality in Europe. The Greek philosopher Epicurus caught another side of Sri Krishna’s teaching, propounded the doctrine of Epicureanism which teaches calm enjoyment. These two doctrines, of equality and enjoyment, were known as the highest moral doctrines of ancient Europe, and have given rise to the endless quarrel between Puritanism and Paganism in modern Europe. But in the Gita’s discipline, the doctrines of equality and calm or pure enjoyment come to the same thing. Equality is the cause, pure enjoyment is the result. Equality destroys attachment, calms down likes and dislikes; with the destruction of attachment and the calming down of likes and dislikes, purity is born. The enjoyment of the pure conscious being is free of desires and attachment, is therefore pure. Herein lies the virtue of equality that attachments and likes and dislikes cannot remain in the same person along with equality. Equality is the seed of purity.
The Conquest of Sorrow
The Stoic school of Greece made this mistake that they were unable to grasp the true means of conquering sorrow. They tried to conquer sorrow by suppressing it, pressing it down, treading it under the feet. But in the Gita it has been said elsewhere, prakṛtiṁ yānti bhūtāni nigrahaḥ kiṁ kariṣyati, all beings follow their natures, what will suppression do? By the suppression of sorrow, human heart becomes dry, hard and loveless. “I shall not shed tears in sorrow, not acknowledge the feeling of pain, say, ‘this is nothing’ and bear it in silence, will look on the sorrows of wife, children, friends, the sorrows of the nation with an unmoved heart”, — this is an attitude of asuric austereness proud of its strength. It has a greatness, also an utility in helping towards man’s progress, but this is not the right means to conquer sorrow, not the last or supreme teaching. The true way to conquer sorrow is knowledge, peace, equality. To receive both joy and sorrow calmly is the right path, not to stop the coming of joy and sorrow into the heart but to keep unmoved the understanding. When there is equality in the understanding the mind and heart automatically have equality, at the same time natural movements like love do not get dried up, man does not become like a stone, dull and insensitive. prakṛtiṁ yānti bhūtāni — movements like love are the eternal movements of Nature, the only way to escape from them is to get merged in the Supreme Reality. To get rid of Nature while living within Nature is an impossibility. If we reject softness of heart, hardness will overcome it, if we forbid the vibrations of sorrow outside, sorrow will remain stored up within and will imperceptibly dry up the heart. There is no possibility of progress in an austerity of this kind. Austerity will no doubt bring power, but what is held down in this life will break all barriers and gush forth with redoubled force in the next.
(Dharma, Nos. 19-24, 1910)
- The Gita 3. 33