everyone glosses over the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita as being merely
introductory. It was Nataraja Guru in his groundbreaking commentary of 1954
(published in 1961) who first stressed its profound significance. In his
introduction he remarks:
The first chapter is… the only one which
contains the problems of the Gita stated correctly before the discussion by the
Guru Krishna. This chapter therefore requires the closest attention. And yet
oddly enough, commentators even like Sankara, have almost ignored it or even
treated it as superfluous. Sankara's commentary begins only with verse 10 of
Chapter ii, and he dismisses what precedes in a summary fashion not at all in
proportion with the rest of his labours. The remaining seventeen chapters of
the Gita make an attempt to dialectically revalue these same problems. It is,
therefore, very important not to leave unnoticed even those minor peculiarities
of this chapter in which the author hides here and there certain indications
for the guidance of the intelligent reader. (32)
order to find a cure, it is essential to recognize the disease, and before
entering a path of self-correction we must not only be dissatisfied with our
current state, but have some inkling why we’re unhappy. To properly present
ourself at the feet of a guru, someone who can throw light on our predicament,
we must have already recognized our own limitations. The patient cannot expect
the doctor to do all the work, but must be committed as an enthusiastic
participant. These crucial elements of a transformative experience are
introduced so artfully in the first chapter that for over two millennia almost
no one noticed.
the moment the Gita begins, two factions of the Kuru clan are intent on battle.
The Kauravas have deviously usurped the rightful territory of the Pandavas, the
family that includes the two protagonists of our story, Prince Arjuna and his
friend and chariot driver Krishna. Conventional wisdom urges the Pandavas to go
to war and redress the crime. Negotiations have been tried and abandoned, since
the triumphant usurpers dare not allow the situation to be framed in moral
terms. Warfare is their only hope of maintaining their dominance.
hurt feelings as the loser impel him to just give up and slink away, as he is
certain that fighting is a lose-lose proposition. But the Gita wants him—and by
proxy, us—to discover a third route, to stand up as a neutral for his rightful place in the world. For someone
caught in a paradoxical dilemma, both fighting and escaping lead to endless
complications. Only wisdom, which Arjuna will soon seek out from his servant
Krishna, can bring about a felicitous outcome.
thus stands for each one of us. His challenges symbolize ours, and in our
journey through the Gita the parallels will be made clear. With this first
chapter we are entering a path of enlightenment that bursts all the boundaries
of orthodoxy and grants us the right to be utterly and spectacularly ourselves.
the field of righteousness, the field of the Kurus, gathered together, intent
on battle, what did my people and also the sons of Pandu do, O Sanjaya?
has only one line in the Gita, and this is it. He is the king of the Kauravas,
the overwhelmingly powerful oppressors of their cousins the Pandavas. He is
asking his aide Sanjaya to describe the action because he is blind, but also to
promote Sanjaya to the role of narrator. Besides Krishna and Arjuna, Sanjaya is
the only other speaker in the entire Gita, except for this one verse.
Sanskrit tradition demands that the parameters of a work be set out in the
first verse. Here the king and his assistant are looking out over a field of
battle that symbolizes the whole world and wondering what’s going on in it.
This means the Gita will address questions of action and conflict. Unlike many
scriptures, it is not an escapist tome promoting an afterlife or invoking
divine intervention. It is about taking control of our life and living it not
only to the best of our ability, but to a better ability than we are even aware
actions are intended and performed to produce happiness. The opening verse is a
view from afar, as from the clouds or an ivory tower, peering down on the
panoply of the world and asking what’s going on? What is the meaning of all the
chaos down below? One thing is certain: these humans are intent on fighting.
The realm of humanity is the field of growth and the struggle for happiness
most important question each of us has to ask ourself as we mature is What do I
do to make my life a success? In other words, How should I act in this world
that appears so like a battlefield wherever I look? In a sense each person’s
life is a long drawn-out four-dimensional answer to this ongoing challenge.
at the outset, the author Vyasa tips us off that there is more here than meets
the eye. The battlefield on which the impending war is going to take place is
the field of righteousness, meaning the domain of proper conduct. The war of
the Gita, then, is a metaphysical one addressing broad issues of right
livelihood, and is not about the actual physical war that surrounds Arjuna and
Krishna in the context of the Mahabharata epic.
field of dharma, often translated as righteousness, refers to the ground of the
Absolute, or the unitive principle; while the field of the Kurus—the
participants on both sides—means eternal happiness and refers to the realm of
action. The dharma field is what we call the vertical aspect of eternal values,
while the field of the Kurus represents the horizontal world of specific
behaviors. In spiritual life we need to bring both aspects, the horizontal and
the vertical, into balance, as well as into harmonious alignment with each
other. The Gita’s aim is to show us how to accomplish this, and in the process
to optimize our life.
Gita takes an interesting slant here. Dhritarashtra is the blind king who leads
the faction that has usurped the rightful domain of the sons of Pandu, the
Pandavas, who include Arjuna. When the leader of a nation is blind to moral
values it invariably precipitates a crisis. The nation becomes divided into
those who adhere to upright behavior and those who debase themselves for profit
and position. This is a perennial problem, and it should not be hard for the
reader to think of examples more recent than 500 BCE.
our day the blind king might represent the entity that far exceeds the power of
a President or king: the limited liability corporation. Intentionally morally
blind, while wielding stupendous power, they threaten to consume the entire
world in their unbridled appetite for profits. The thrust of corporate intent
is as problematic to parry as the vastly more powerful Kauravas are for Arjuna.
There is no way to attack them head on, and fleeing from the confrontation just
leaves the field open for more rapid exploitation. Since their charters outlaw
moral considerations, they are immune to ethical appeals. A new solution is
dilemma may also be viewed as the battleground we find ourselves in on a daily
basis. We can think of spouse, friends or coworkers. Let’s say the problem is
that your coworker has got the boss’s ear and convinced him that he alone is
responsible for what the two of you have accomplished together. In fact, you
did most of the work, and he is jockeying for the credit. Now he’s in line for
that promotion and they’re thinking of firing you. If you lodge a protest, it
will look like you are being selfish and manipulative. Put simply, your
opponent is using aggressive tactics to have the argument framed on his terms,
and to cut you out. Such a self-seeking attitude is very dispiriting, and the
immediate reaction is likely to be that you should just resign and concede
everything the aggressor claims. You have to get a grip and calmly present your
side, no matter how dire the circumstances, or you will lose everything. If you
allow yourself to be drawn into quarreling and bickering, you are even more
likely to be fired.
actual problem may be very difficult to assess correctly. In the confusion of
the battle, separating truth from fiction is essential and requires constant
striving to maintain a clear perspective. A clever opponent can win through
kicking up clouds of dust to heighten the confusion, as is often seen in
political confrontations, for instance. All models of truth without exception
have their limitations, which over time cause them to be supplanted by revised
models. Therefore it is a process
under consideration, not a finalized viewpoint. This is a primary failing of
the scientifically minded nearly as much as the religiously minded. Tenaciously
holding on to a particular viewpoint may prove less successful in the long run
than remaining flexible.
far as spiritual technique goes, your attackers should not necessarily be taken
at face value, though the wise person will consider it. Greedy people often use
disinformation to blame their selfishness on you or confuse the issue so they
can more easily get away with their scheme. The conflict needs only to be
viewed as a field (kshetra) for the
mining of deeper truths. The goal is always to have truth revealed despite the
back in the epic, the blind king’s wife has done an interesting thing: she has
wrapped her eyes in a blindfold in order to be on an equal footing with her
husband. This is universally considered to be a magnanimous gesture on her
part. Sri Chinmoy calls it “a sacrifice worthy to be remembered and admired by
humanity.” As Ram Das puts it in his generally very excellent commentary on the
Gita, “Such devotion!” Such devotion indeed. One step above suttee, where the
widow casts herself on the funeral pyre to join her husband in death. Comments
like these merely reveal a sexist cast on the part of the interpreters.
Gita does not necessarily approve of everything it portrays. Much of it is set
down to demonstrate how what seems reasonable can go terribly wrong. Why is it
so difficult to think that a revered scripture could be presenting the foibles
of the ignorant along with exemplars of the wise? It says more about the reader
than the book whether something is unquestioningly accepted as literal truth or
whether they dare to remain skeptical until they really get the gist. Such
skepticism is not blasphemous, it is merely intelligent.
penalty for taking symbolic instruction literally is blindness, or what we sometimes
call spiritual death.
what Vyasa was really trying to tell us, as clarified later in the epic: the
powerful demand for conformity makes us afraid to stand by our own vision.
Anyone who is married to or otherwise serves a blind despot is generally required
to close their eyes to truth in order to retain their post. Blindfolding
themselves is the typical behavior of sycophants. If they notice something
their leader is doing wrong, they’d better keep quiet about it.
Bible offers a similar moral teaching in Genesis 9, where Noah is drunk and
“uncovered” in his tent. This means that his ugliness is on display. His son
Ham saw him and proclaimed it to his brothers, and so Noah cursed him for all
eternity when he awoke. His less honest brothers, keeping their eyes averted,
backed into the tent and covered Noah, and so were blessed by him.
organizational catchword is “you go along to get along.” It permeates civic
life from the lowest level right to the top, and is a key cause of disasters
great and small. Where a group of individuals freely examining matters in
detail could steer the ship of state through rough seas, those fearing for
their security must shut their mouths while watching the waves crash on the
reefs dead ahead. To warn the captain would be to display a lack of faith, and
to very likely lose your job. So let the chips fall where they may!
again it shouldn’t be hard to recall recent examples and their horrifically
of the rarest of human types is the leader who recognizes the inevitability in
themselves of degrees of blindness and welcomes contradictory points of view
into the decision making process. This is important to remember on the personal
level as well. If we can keep in mind our own limitations, we will be more open
to input from our friends that might be very helpful. They may well be seeing
faults to which we ourselves are blind, so they should be encouraged to speak
up without fear of losing our friendship.
of us were punished as children for our faults, and we learned to pretend we
were blameless to avoid pain and humiliation. One of the hardest and most
essential steps in spiritual life is to admit to ourselves that we are flawed
and imperfect, because there is a smack lurking in the back of our mind to
punctuate the admission. Until we face that simple fact, though, we can never make
any real progress.
a person is psychologically blind, it signifies they are unable to see the
results of their actions. This is especially exaggerated in the rich and
powerful, but it epitomizes a universal human condition. We all live to some degree
in a fantasy world created by our ego and buttressed by our separation in time
and space from the effects of what we do. The fact that our fantasies are a
poor match with reality remains hidden from us. We are almost always forced to
act on the basis of partial knowledge, and have to fill in the blanks with our
own hopes and fears. As new stimulation captures our attention, we turn away
from previous involvements and comfort ourselves that all is well, whether or
not that is the case. But the awakening impulse that throbs in the human spirit
directs us to open our eyes to the actual effects of what we do, to enlarge our
vision from the circumscribed here and now toward the everywhere and always.
Thinking globally involves time as well as space. For most of us, if we knew
the impact of our actions on others, we would positively modify our behavior.
One key role of a teacher is to redirect our attention to that which we are too
blind to realize yet.
queens, princes and princesses live in a guarded world where they are shielded
from reality. This is pictorially communicated most famously by the story of
Prince Siddhartha in his palace. He lived in ease and splendor, while his
subjects suffered manifold privations, partly to support his lifestyle. Only
when he sneaked out in the dead of night and began mingling with his subjects
did the veil fall from his eyes. What he saw shocked him into a dedicated
search for the meaning of life, and what he found eventually transformed him
into the Buddha, the awakened one. He was the exception, and therefore our
inspiration. The blind king Dhritarashtra, on the other hand, never did try to
escape from his predicament, as it was far too lucrative and comfortable. He
personifies all the habitual character traits we need to overcome in order to
see clearly. If there is an enemy in this story, he is it, and he is us.
seeing the army of the Pandavas in battle array, Prince Duryodhana, having
approached his teacher, then gave utterance to the following speech:
he appears in it but occasionally, Sanjaya is the third character in the Gita,
dominated as it is by the dialogue between Guru Krishna and disciple Arjuna. It
is said that God has given him the boon of being able to see everything that
transpires on the battlefield. This is nothing more than a poetic way of
empowering him as the narrator by the author, Vyasa. A narrator must be able to
describe events and conversations at a distance, and hence must “see” much more
than any ordinary person could.
the epic of the Mahabharata, the stories are related by a third party witness
to someone else, and that narrative technique is followed here as well, with
Sanjaya reporting the tale to Dhritarashtra. Whoever inserted the Gita within
the epic expertly deployed its format to maintain continuity.
readers often think, “Oh, God is so great! He makes a man able to see
everything everywhere!” Next comes the argument with a skeptical person who
doesn’t believe there ever has been such a fellow. As with most fundamentalist
issues, it’s completely irrelevant. The point is solely that Sanjaya is the
narrator of this story. False arguments leading up blind alleys are to be
dismissed whenever encountered, as one essential tactic of the spiritual
search. We have much better places to put our energies.
is the son of King Dhritarashtra, and is the leader of the Kaurava side. Prince
Duryodhana’s teacher referred to in this verse is Drona, who taught everyone
present on both sides the art of war. Having the teacher of skill in conflict
addressed at the outset properly sets the stage for this archetypal drama,
reenacted repeatedly throughout human history.
our day, unfortunately, soldiers do not study peace, and therefore peace is no
longer the goal of war. Perhaps it seldom was. If the resolution of actual
military battles was its actual subject, the Gita would be obsolete. But the
truth of the matter is that it deals with the individual’s relationship to
life, and the extended metaphor of the battlefield proves extremely apt as the
vision of the work unfolds. As long as we have problems to solve, the Gita’s
insights will never be out of date.
a sense we are all schooled in the art of warfare, having been taught to stay
on guard, defend our turf, compete. We have learned an overarching orientation
to conflict with our fellows. It should come as no surprise that we find
ourselves time and again on a field of battle ready to let the arrows fly.
psychology terms the girding of ourselves with mental armor as our defenses.
Defenses not only offer protection, they also trap us inside them. They can
easily become habitual features, taking away our freedom of movement. So we
must be very clear about what we are walling in or walling out.
is a good time to relate another symbolic event that took place the day before
the battle. Over the course of the epic, the Kauravas have seized the entire
kingdom. Caught up in their obsession with domination, they didn’t want to leave
the Pandavas even enough earth to stand on. The Pandavas had made concession
after concession, but it never quelled the usurpers’ desire for more. At last
they had no choice but to stand their ground, because there was nowhere left to
had been trying to intercede to stop the war, but his every offer was rejected
by the aggressors. Just as today, they were determined to fight no matter what,
cocksure of victory, and peace talks were just part of the maneuvering for a
more advantageous position.
leader of the Kaurava army, decided to go see what help he could get from
Krishna. When he arrived at his room, he found him resting on his bed, asleep.
Being an arrogant king, he wasn’t going to stand humbly by waiting on anybody,
so he pulled a chair next to the head of the bed and sat down.
also thought of going to his friend Krishna for a final consultation before the
war. When he found Krishna asleep, he humbly made his way to the foot of the
bed and stood there. Their relative positions emphasized the hauteur of the
king and the respectful deference of Arjuna.
Krishna awoke he was naturally looking at his feet, and so saw Arjuna first.
When he greeted him, Duryodhana became furious and demanded that he speak to
him instead, since his rank was higher. Krishna determined that they both
sought his help, so he made them an offer: they could either have all his
troops and horses, chariots and weapons, or they could have him alone, unarmed
and pledged to peace. In other words, they could choose either his material or
Kaurava king thought that just having an unarmed man was useless. Focused on
tangibles, he couldn’t grasp that Krishna was the Absolute incarnate. Weapons
and armies are what counted to him. He greedily took the hardware. Arjuna, by
contrast, picked Krishna solely for his own sake.
entire scene is a beautiful allegory for materialism versus spirituality.
Krishna is a symbol of the fecund, all-embracing Absolute, generously
supporting everyone in the way they find most suitable. Some choose wealth and
solidity, and sneer at those who find solace in poetry, music, love or any
other immaterial substance. Others don’t see much value in piling up their
treasures where moths and rust can get at them. The companionship of the
Absolute means more to them than all the opulence and power in the world. These
are the two sides that are at odds on the battlefield of life, in an unending
clash of values. One side takes whatever it can grab and the other gives
ground, until some cosmic blast of fate turns the tables.
Teacher, look at this grand army of the Sons of Pandu, marshaled by your
talented pupil, the Son of Drupada.
narrated by Sanjaya, Duryodhana will reel off the war’s preeminent participants
through the eighth verse, and describe the setting for several more. While
striking the modern reader as nothing more than a meaningless list of names, to
those familiar with the Mahabharata epic it is the equivalent of an overture to
a grand opera, building tension and expectations even before the curtain goes
is important to keep in mind that we are entering a profound psychodrama here.
The actual war scene is receding into the background, as the personal factor
moves to center stage. We are going to explore humanity’s perennial quest for
understanding throughout the entire Gita.
impending battle could be described in terms of limitation versus liberty. The
Kauravas collectively represent the binding forces of conditioning, and the
Pandavas the liberating forces of freedom. To be utterly honest though, both
sides have constricting and expanding elements in them. Each warrior mentioned
in Duryodhana’s list stands for one of these forces, and a lengthy study could
be made of their symbolism. To avoid getting bogged down with this, it is
sufficient to make a few general comments.
crucially, the realization propounded by the Gita is going to transcend the
very categories of good and bad. Arjuna will be led to a neutral, balanced vision,
where he “will be liberated from the bonds of action, whether its results are
good or evil” (IX, 28). Unlike many scriptures, the Gita’s goal is not to
accumulate good (or merit) and minimize the bad, but to achieve a balanced
state of mind that is superior to both. That’s what yoga is, in fact: a
dialectical synthesis of opposites. The inherent tragedy of fighting for good
is that good and evil are actually two sides of the same coin, so if you
amplify one you simultaneously energize the other. Well-intentioned people
battle against evil, not realizing they are making it stronger by doing so.
This paradox has confounded humans since the dawn of time, but its resolution
will be revealed as we proceed. There is nothing simple about it, however.
Arjuna has a lot to learn before he will properly grasp this.
throng of warriors surrounding Arjuna reminds us we are bound in many different
ways. We have physical limitations, psychological conditionings, social
constraints, and the workings of fate, the “slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune,” all conspiring to knock us off course Most of our limitations have
their pluses and minuses, and sorting them out streamlines our existence,
promoting expertise in our undertakings. Let’s take a brief look at each of
these four broad categories.
way we are physically constructed necessarily limits our options. Humans can do
many things very well with our bodies, but we can’t fly or stay underwater for
long. We have to breathe air and consume food and water. So our physical
structure is both helpful and unhelpful, carrying us forward while also
demanding a lot of care and attention.
psychological unfolding of life, with its rewards, punishments and traumas,
causes certain possibilities to become available and others to be voided. Each
time we make a decision we open up some potentials and close off others. To the
extent we are caught in a flow of inevitability we are bound to make certain
choices, which may or may not be in anyone’s best interests. Since psychological
factors are probably the most important shapers of our destiny, dedication to
rectifying our decision making process is central to a spiritual search. Our
available options have many implications, so we need to be as aware as humanly
possible to avoid becoming snarled in necessity.
type of social setup we are born into forces us to either put up with numerous
strictures or fight against them; either way we are helpless pawns in someone
else’s game. Curiously, those “someone elses” were themselves pawns in their
predecessor’s games, who were pawns of their predecessors in turn, regressing
ad infinitum into the past. Who will dare to bring intelligence to bear on the
age-old conventions that bind us, often reinforced as they are by being attributed
we live in a historical setting over which we have little or no influence, yet
we ignore it at our peril. Modern people prefer the term ‘luck’ over ‘fate’,
but it’s the same thing. We tend to imagine that the way things are at the moment
is normal and eternal, but with a small amount of contemplative distance it is
easy to see that this is not the case. We are all swimming in a powerful tide,
content to remain unaware of it. This can lead us into dangerous waters.
Kauravas represent the rules and regulations of the social world, embodied in
family members, teachers and spiritual preceptors. On the more evil end of the
spectrum they are people who manipulate others for their own benefit, and who
are greedy and selfish. On the positive side, they act with admirable, though
Pandavas are also family members, teachers and preceptors. They bind with good
intentions, and such bindings are often more difficult to extricate ourselves
from than the obviously negative ones. They exhort us to do things “for our own
good.” We learn to behave socially because some recognized authority or
parental figure promotes it. Schoolteachers help us to fit in to the current
static image of society by citing lofty ideals. Someone we love may have their
heart broken if we choose to deviate from their favored outlook, so to be
considerate of them we comply. The bottom line is we are entangled in both good
and evil obligations, divested of our individuality and freedom, and made to
act helplessly in response to outside forces.
bound by all of these factors, is now caught in the ultimate trap to which they
lead: full-scale war. Although there are fates worse than death, war is the
vehement unleashing of extinction, threatening the ultimate eradication of our
personal freedom. Soon Arjuna will be chafing at both his good and bad
constraints, seeking to distance himself from them so he can become empowered
as a free individual. We are invited to join him in his transformation from a
hapless victim of circumstances into a liberated being empowered to choose his
are heroes, mighty archers, equal in battle to Bhima and Arjuna, Yuyudhana,
Virata, and Drupada, of the great chariot.
those heroic binding forces are our “equals in battle” all right! Often they
are our betters, able to defeat us handily. If we believe we can ignore them
and they will just go away, they have won. That’s because they don’t go away on
their own: they stay underground and grow even stronger.
have always symbolized concentrated determination to achieve a goal, and an
arrow of intention striking the target dead center is the ideal result.
Curiously the word ‘sin’ comes from the same imagery, and means “missing the
mark.” The most essential prerequisite for a spiritual search is a burning
desire to cast off our fetters so we can explore the unknown and discover its significance.
A lukewarm attitude is likely to allow us to drift into trouble, possibly as an
unwitting pawn of a charlatan or demagogue.
first step to take in the thousand mile journey of spiritual transformation,
then, is to recognize the oppressive elements that have brought us to the
moment when we can no longer bear to remain in their clutches. Surging through
us are the urgent voices of all our caregivers and teachers, which as unformed
beings we have relinquished our sovereignty to. At some point we realize we
have vacated our true calling, our dharma, at their behest. We begin the
process of self-renewal by deciding to reclaim our integrity as a legitimate
participant in our world. We must seek out our authentic “still small voice”
within the cacophony of competing shouts for our attention, and help it to
you want to read quickly over this section, Arjuna will be doing the very same
exercise in the middle of the chapter. He will step into the no-man’s-land
between the armies to take stock of all the factors he is engulfed by: the dear
friends, teachers and family members that have brought him to his seemingly
inescapable predicament. We can hold off until then, but at some point we must
face up to the realization that the beliefs we once accepted without question
have got to be carefully scrutinized, and all that is false in them rejected.
Otherwise we will never recover.
5 & 6) Dhrishtaketu, Chekitana, and the
valiant King of Kasi, Purujit and Kuntibhoja, and that bull among men, Saibya.
heroic Yudhamanyu, and the brave Uttamaujas, the Son of Subhadra, and the Sons
of Draupadi, all of great chariots.
blind spots are literally a “cast of thousands,” as they used to say of old
movies. The most oppressive to our psyche are the authority figures, the
prominent men and women we cede our decision-making power to. We casually
surrender our individuality to these outside entities, because everyone else
does. But the Absolute has only one route into our psyche: from the inside, and
it becomes ineffectual when we look to others for our cues to act. Another
giant step toward maturity is to recognize that everyone is as ignorant as we
are, and their authority is nothing more than a fragile construct held up by
mutual consent, and not due to divine dispensation, as they might like you to
4-6 list the warriors on Arjuna’s side, which from Duryodhana’s viewpoint are
the enemy, and he will afterwards list a few of his own. From a spiritual
perspective, both friends and foes can be equally binding, or for that matter,
liberating, if they goad us to a breakthrough. These forces are like a
blindfold we wear throughout our life, ceding authority to others who also wear
blindfolds. If we start to remove it, we will quickly learn just how
complicated and clingy the blindfold is, and how much the “well adjusted”
blindfold wearers resent us making the attempt.
know who are the most distinguished among us, O Best of the Twice-born, the
leaders of my army; these I tell you, for you to recognize by name:
the narrator is still describing the scene to the blind king Dhritarashtra, but
remember he’s telling him in this section about what Duryodhana is saying to
his teacher Drona. The previous list of names is the “good guys,” the Pandavas,
and now he names the key “bad guys.” As already noted, the good and bad sides
can be viewed as liberating tendencies and binding tendencies, both of which
are present in every situation. Arjuna has finally been forced by them into
such a dire position that he is impelled to change his mind.
most cases I have used the given name for people, and omitted the descriptive
terms, which occur frequently in the Gita, such as Partha for Arjuna and
Bhagavan for Krishna. Often these occur merely to keep the meter, which is
eight syllables per line, with an occasional poetic outburst of eleven per
line. But here we may get a whiff of ironic wit on the part of Vyasa, which
tempts me to leave “O Best of the Twice-born” alone. Twice-born describes a
member of the brahmin caste, and carries roughly the same implication as
Born-again Christian. A holier-than-thou attitude is typical of such types, and
of course having degrees of holiness is an absurdity in the context of
absolutist wisdom, in which all beings without exception are equally holy.
Drona, a brahmin, is indeed an exceptional teacher, but he basically stays
within conventional bounds. At this juncture he has cast his lot with the
Kauravas, the oppressors. As the Gita is aimed at having us throw off all
oppressions, including caste and religious conformity, we may perhaps detect a
derisive smile from Vyasa behind what would ordinarily be a merely polite form
8 & 9) You
and Bhishma, and Karna, and also Kripa, the victor in war, Asvatthama and
Vikarna, and also the Son of Somadatta,
many other heroes who are willing to die for me, who have various missiles and weapons,
all skilled in warfare.
Kaurava side is caught in the egotistical myopia of gauging everything in terms
of its own interests. All those heroes are prepared to die for a cause, and the
cause is “what I want.” Remember that back in the very first verse,
Dhritarashtra asked about “my people.” The Gita is going to direct us to
transcend our petty interests and think in global or universal terms. The
planarian perception that what immediately appeals to “me” is the sole
criterion needed, is about to give way to an appeal to higher reasoning. The
law of the jungle is to be transformed by a seeker of truth into the kind of
compassionate and thoughtful behavior often described as spiritual.
begin their conscious development thinking in terms of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’,
but after a growth struggle of many years some of them become adults who can
think in terms of ‘we’ and ‘ours’. Unfortunately, very many stay stuck in
selfishness, and true adulthood is rare. Being concerned with yourself doesn’t seem
too heinous at first blush, but it can be manipulated into dangerous states of
mind all too easily. Arjuna finds himself being drawn in to just such a
conundrum, in which the “blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the
ceremony of innocence is drowned;” in the famous words of W.B. Yeats. Author
Vyasa knows this well, as indicated by his telling us that the Kaurava
strongmen are willing and even eager to die for their leader.
the most contrary state of mind to the nature of a human being, testifying to a
lifetime of trauma, is a willingness to die for a cause. History is filled with
churning hordes who believe their death in battle will bring about some utopian
state, but who are in actuality nothing more than tools of power-crazed leaders.
If they learn their lesson in time and decide to live for a cause instead of
dying for it, they are simply replaced by the next youthful hothead.
Psychologist Alice Miller attributes this warping of normal intelligent
sensibility to strict upbringing. If you are taught to obey your parents
unquestioningly, it is easy to be made to obey your leaders, political or
religious, in the same manner. Where your parents may well have your best
interests in mind, few leaders do. The Gita is a powerful antidote to this
mentality, passionately urging us to reclaim our integrity without abandoning
our quest for justice.
most of us learn early on to be “skilled in warfare,” in our dealings with
other people, first coming to conceive of them as enemies, then firing verbal
missiles to destroy their positions, sniping at them, laying booby traps and
mining pathways, taking pride in undermining the opposition in any way we can,
most often with words, but with deeds when they are deemed necessary for
conquest. It takes someone like a yogi to rise above the fray, converting it
into a civilized discourse based on mutual concern and respect.
army of ours which is under the care of Bhishma is insufficient, but this army
of theirs which is under the care of Bhima is adequate.
is the first strong indicator of the true profundity of the Gita’s wisdom. For
some reason, the much more powerful army is described as insufficient, while the weaker one is adequate. (The Sanskrit root is identical, even though Nataraja
Guru has shaded the translation to heighten the contrast.) It echoes Arjuna’s
earlier choice of an unarmed Krishna over all his armaments.
idea that has been grasped by some commentators is that the Kaurava army
represents the relativist, partisan orientation, which is inadequate or “insufficient,”
while the Pandava army represents righteous, absolutist values, which in the
matter of justice are sufficient or “adequate.” This is undoubtedly correct.
The whole underpinning of justice is that it is based on universal norms rather
than partisan whim. A mere selfish opinion or preference is not adequate, but a
well thought out system embracing as many aspects of the situation as can be
included does indeed measure up. The rule of kings and dictators is ever the
former, while constitutional law attempts to fulfill the latter. But laws can
never perfectly embody absolutist wisdom, which has to adapt itself to every
circumstance. Arjuna, on his own, will soon be seeking—and finding—this elusive
goal of humanity.
commentators have reversed the order given here, because they couldn’t fathom
why a vastly stronger army would be less adequate. It’s because the true field
of battle here is the psyche, not the physical world of war. In spiritual life
at least, might does not make right. A non-material factor accounts for the
difference. In this the Pandavas are far ahead.
similar distinction of adequate/inadequate may be observed between verifiable
scientific facts and wishful thinking. A corporation may hire mercenary
scientists and mount an advertising blitz to support its contention that
logging a forest is the best way to preserve it, but the facts cannot be denied
that what replaces the forest is another entity entirely, namely a tree farm,
or perhaps a desert. Or it may be claimed that unhealthy food is good for you,
but the doctor’s bill will have to be paid despite the claim. So the Gita’s
assertion that absolute wisdom trumps relativistic knowledge is of paramount
importance. It is crucial that each of us distinguishes one from the other, and
steers our way by the light of truth rather than by closing our eyes tightly
and going on faith in our acquired (or supplied) prejudices.
is a second level here which is less obvious. Almost all of us start out as
children who are subject to the dictates of an adult world. Over and over our
impulses and ideas are squelched in favor of what our parents, teachers and
religious leaders tell us is “right,” and we learn to doubt ourselves. We come
to believe that what we think—what we are—is
somehow flawed, but those who tell us what to do are so clearly full of
confidence and certainty themselves, we are sure they must be in possession of
superior knowledge. Children cannot distinguish that this is a charade. There
are many strategies to cope with this frustrating and humiliating state of
affairs, but most children adopt the attitude that they are wrong and the
grown-up world is right, because it evades the issue rather neatly. The only
problem is that it isn’t true.
we enter adulthood wearing a straitjacket: the belief that we are inadequate
but all the seemingly well-adjusted people around us are adequate. Since these
universal feelings are internalized and masked by bluster, we don’t see that
everyone has them. We become unsure of ourselves, and readily grant those who
pretend to be sure of themselves authority over us. By doing so we lose the
full humanity that Arjuna is going to reclaim during the course of Krishna’s
upcoming course of instruction.
you Arjunas, look around and know that everyone is in the same predicament as
you. We are all in this together. The Gita sweetly sings this song throughout,
and it will lift your hearts if you can but hear it.
so let all of you, standing in your respective positions at the entrance to
every formation, keep guard on Bhishma.
is the old Kuru patriarch mentioned in the next verse. He is singled out as
representing the highest achievement of the old order, the religious
meritocracy featuring celibacy and purity. The Gita intends to dispense with
all merit-based religious thinking, which is dualistic at its core. Here the
oppressing forces are directed to protect the old order at all costs.
the army of relativity is inadequate, everyone must be on guard! Since its
position is false, it may fail at any moment. This is the position of the
fearful. You are inadequate. You don’t know where you stand. If your leader is
lost, you are nothing. Your psychic castle is built on sand, and the tide is
your position has been gained by treachery, there is no guarantee that it won’t
be taken away by treachery. You must mistrust everyone, take nothing for
granted. Your days are consumed in anxiety and the struggle to maintain your
perch. What a miserable way to live!
spiritual message is to look into our soul and see where we have posted guards,
and grant them a furlough. We will be moving toward an unguarded state of
openness as we go forward.
as to cheer him, the mighty old Kuru patriarch roared loudly like a lion and
blew a conch.
is the patriarch referred to, leader of the Kauravas on the battlefield. There
is a modern phrase for what he does: blowing your own horn, or simply, boasting.
What’s more, a lion has ever been the symbol of pride. In ordinary life, each
participant in a conflict puts forth their own point of view, loudly and
forcefully. According to the Gita, this is exactly the way to become mired in a
disaster; extrication can only come by embracing the whole picture through a
yogic or dialectic synthesis.
you are fearful and confused, it is a relief to join forces with a group or
gang that promises a protective fraternity. Then the leader sounds the call to
battle, and you rally to his side, ready to do his bidding. Nowadays we speak
of things like waving the flag instead of sounding the conch, but the idea is
the same. In this way, in place of allegiance to the unlimited Absolute we
become partisans of nations, religions, tribes, towns or families. Any
limitation on the extent of our identification with the whole brings about a
limitation of justice, and is therefore a basis of conflict. The Gita is going
to counsel the abandonment of all limitations, but in order to do this we have
to know what they are first. Right now we stand with Arjuna in the midst of
them, and the pressure is building fast.
conches and drums and gongs, (other) drums, and horns, were played together
suddenly, and that sound made a confused clang.
blast of noise roars out to begin the battle. Its horrible, mind-numbing clang
epitomizes the relativist side of the war, symbolized by the Kauravas, and
their braying battle instruments are still metaphorically echoing down through
the ages to our time. Everyone shouting in favor of their own selfish interests
is a recipe for social chaos and collapse. After a few brief forays into civil
communication as a species, we are back to living in a time when bellowing as
loudly as possible from permanently entrenched positions is the mark of public
complaints about the Gita include that it takes place in the middle of a war,
and therefore advocates fighting and so is just about male problems. While
historically actual war is mainly a “guy thing,” conflict is the lot of
everyone. The battle here is symbolic of the painful dilemmas and paradoxes we
are doomed to confront no matter what our gender. For example, in divorces both
men and women suffer. Girls are hurt by the pains of adolescence possibly even
more than boys. Childbirth has even been used as a prime example of necessary,
inevitable action. Most importantly, mental distress knows no boundaries based
on sex. It is not helpful to imagine that women are nothing more than innocent
victims of male derangement. While men tend to be more outwardly aggressive
than women, all of us are confronted by both inner and outer challenges and
need to learn how to cope with them. The noisy chaos of the present setting is
an apt image for the spiritual struggles we all too often find ourselves in.
be honest, conflict may be a necessary stimulus to our spiritual growth. Most
of us enjoy routines and can easily become content with comfortable habits.
Until we learn to make progress without the goading of uncertainties and
threats, we will continue to experience them. The universe seems to want us to
evolve, and encourages it in whatever way works. But fighting is not the way to
make progress, and Arjuna knows this. He desperately wants to find an
the literal setting is all male at this moment, if we can accept its archetypal
symbolism as universal it will be supremely educational. Whoever we are and
whatever our problems, the Gita provides a general template to assist us in meeting
every challenge. Our job as astute readers is to tailor the teachings to our
own conditions by transposing the terms.
standing in their great chariot, to which white horses were yoked, Krishna and
Arjuna together blew their divine conches.
there is also a divine or spiritual point of view, which, while in outward
appearance no different from any other, can lead us to freedom rather than
bondage. Such is the Aum-like song of the divine conch, sounded by the guru and
disciple who are about to take center stage.
the two protagonists blow their horns together first, symbolizing the unity of
their endeavor. Then in the next verse they will begin a “roll-call” of the
righteous, the Pandavas.
is by no means the nonconformist hippie type we associate with spaced-out
spirituality. In the Mahabharata epic he is a straight arrow, sincerely pious,
and obedient to society’s beliefs. He is thus a typical human being, albeit
with well developed skills in the art of warfare. By using him as the
archetypal disciple, the Gita is demonstrating how ordinary attitudes, when
carried to their logical extreme, lead to the very conflicts that require
extraordinary solutions. They bring us to a dead end, from which the only
escape is transcendence, and the only help available comes in the form of a
special teacher or guru. By singling out Arjuna, there is a clear implication
that the path being presented is open to all. No one needs any special
qualification to learn wisdom, only an attitude of dedication.
is nearly impossible to not think of Arjuna as a soldier participating in a war
taking place long ago and far away. But that should be kept in the background.
There is no doubt that Arjuna is meant to represent you, the reader. If you do
not identify with him or his problems the profundity of the work will be
vitiated to a significant extent.
blew Panchajanya, and Arjuna blew Devadatta. He of wolf-like appetite and deeds
of enormity (Bhima) blew his great conch, Paundra.
that the forces of bondage all conspire together, blowing their horns in a
blaring cacophony, but the forces of liberation weigh in independently. Even
right at the beginning of the Gita a sublime symbolism is apparent. The way the
conches are blown implies that upright individuals are the ideal and mob
behavior—even “respectable” mob behavior, a.k.a. society—is degrading. Societal
madness is a collective psychosis;
the cure is individual enlightenment.
The Wisdom of Crowds, James
Surowiecki (Doubleday, 2004) explains the quasi-mystical decision-making power
of a group of individuals, as opposed to groups that are swayed by peer
pressure. The former routinely outperform the latter in measurable ways:
Diversity and independence are important because
the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not
consensus and compromise. An intelligent group, especially when confronted with
cognition problems, does not ask its members to modify their positions in order
to let the group reach a decision everyone can be happy with. Instead, it
figures out how to use mechanisms—like market prices, or intelligent voting
systems—to aggregate and produce collective judgments that represent not what
any one person in the group thinks but rather, in some sense, what they all
think. Paradoxically, the best way for a
group to be smart is for each person in it to think and act as independently as
possible. (xix-xx) (emphasis mine)
We should keep this in mind throughout our Gita
study, which is a textbook of individual empowerment, with little or no
concession to social demands. What the rishis realized and scientists are
coming to appreciate, is that agreement is overrated. Certitude must be found
within, in our connection with the Absolute, while the false certitude we experience
from going along with others may usher us into a fool’s paradise.
is often characterized as pure selfishness, but they are not the same thing. A
truly independent person is unselfish, always taking into account as much as
possible of every reasonable perspective. Selfishness—raised to an absolute
virtue in the modern political miasma—is inimical to independent and dependent
people alike, because it degrades everything. It blocks out way too much
important information to form the basis of sound judgment. By contrast, generosity
and unselfishness, intelligently exercised, are much more inclusive. By aiming
for universal benefit they contribute to the betterment of everyone.
Gita focuses almost exclusively on the development of independence through
freedom from all conditionings, and so it appears to be highly antisocial.
There is only the barest implication that the hard won independence of a
disciple, product of a strenuous and intense period of study under an
uncompromising yet compassionate guru, is to be applied to the social realm.
But that is precisely where it is
exercised. No one is totally free of entanglements with their fellow humans,
and most of us are deeply dependent on the entire web of human interactions.
And yet we must learn independence not only for our own happiness but, as
Surowiecki so ably demonstrates, for the happiness and well-being of all.
Yudhishthira, Son of Kunti, blew Anantavijaya, and Nakula and Sahadeva (blew
together) the Sughosha and Manipushpaka.
Krishna, we now have met Arjuna and his four brothers: Bhima, Yudhishthira, and
the twins Nakula and Sahadeva. Notice that each blows his horn in the order of
his spiritual importance—Prince Yudhishthira is only third. Graded series will
be found throughout the Gita, usually with the most valuable quality first.
far as we are concerned, there is no point in introducing all the characters
mentioned in the first chapter, since they will all be quickly swept into the
background, leaving only Arjuna and Krishna in their guru-disciple dialogue,
along with Sanjaya the narrator. If you read the Mahabharata epic you can get
to know all these interesting people at that time.
17 & 18) And
the King of Kashi, excellent bowman, Sikhandin, great charioteer,
Dhrishtadyumna and Virata and the unconquered Satyaki,
and the Sons of Draupadi, O Lord of the Earth, and the Son of Subhadra, of
mighty arms—from all sides each blew his conch separately.
In case we haven’t quite caught on yet, the Gita
now makes it more explicit: the absolutist side is made up of free individuals,
therefore each blows his conch separately, though harmoniously, like a symphony
orchestra. Earlier the relativist gang of thugs expressed themselves in a
confused blast of party loyalty, without coherence, but here we find personal
dignity and integrity highlighted.
In the Gita we are in the presence of a subtle
masterpiece, with nearly every word freighted with significance. The “Lord of
the Earth” is Dhritarashtra, and is an epithet that shows the limitations of
Arjuna’s assailants. Their interests are in worldly matters only, whereas he is
about to begin a search for higher values. Material goals are no longer enough,
as Arjuna will soon state quite definitely. Nor is Arjuna aiming to become a
Lord of Heaven, in direct opposition to outright materialism. He will become a
yogi, meaning he will treat earth and heaven as two poles of a dialectic, which
he will unite in a synthesis that reveals the Absolute in all its transcendent
grandeur. In plain words, humans require both physical and spiritual
nourishment to thrive.
loud blast, filling earth and sky with sound, pierced the hearts of
have more subtle hints of yoga here, with the Absolutist blast filling both
earth and heaven, synthesizing the dialectic. The clarion call of freedom
reaches far beyond the limited world of selfish interests, and is the weapon by
which the Pandava side launches their attack. It goes to the heart, uplifting
instead of destroying. This type of warfare was echoed by the flower children
of the mid-twentieth century, who placed flowers into the barrels of the rifles
being brandished in their faces.
Thomas Moore, in Care of the Soul
(Harper Perennial, 1992, p. 20), writes, “It takes a broad vision to know that
a piece of the sky and a chunk of the earth lie lodged in the heart of every
human being, and if we are going to care for that heart we will have to know
the sky and earth as well as human behavior.”
beholding the Sons of Dhritarashtra standing marshaled in order, while the
flight of arrows was beginning, Arjuna, the Son of Pandu, of monkey ensign,
took up his bow;
opening drum roll has built to its peak, and the curtain now rises on Act One,
where Arjuna steps to the center of the action. He takes up his bow,
symbolizing his intention, not to fight, but to understand. Before long he will
be overwhelmed with doubt and sorrow, causing him to lose his grip on the bow
and drop it, and he will not take it up again until the very end of the final
chapter. He has an awful lot to learn in his transition from an ordinary
socialized being to an enlightened and independent soul.
arrows symbolize projections of particularized points of view. Everyone is
putting in their opinion, offering advice, pressing for their side to prevail.
This typical and ordinary tumult has now escalated to a lethal degree. Here on
the battlefield of life, arrows of selfishness are zinging around all the time,
from every direction. When they strike home, they wound you, they draw blood.
psychologist Marion Woodman made some relevant comments about arrows in an
interview by James Kullander, in The Sun magazine, August 2006, from a slightly
Woodman: Personal growth and spiritual
development are based on honesty and integrity, and it’s only in intimate
relationships that real honesty and integrity surface. Life with an intimate
partner is no bowl of cherries, and you’ve got to be strictly honest with each
other and recognize your unconscious projections onto each other and deal with
them. If you don’t, you drift apart.
Kullander: What sort of “unconscious
Woodman: Say, for example, something about the
other person really annoys you. That annoying quality likely also exists in
you, but you don’t know it, so you attack the other person for it. The quality
that you hate in the other person is also something that you hate about
yourself. That’s a negative projection. A positive projection can be something
you admire in another person but unconsciously devalue in your own life. There
are even qualities in others that we hate and admire at the same time. Whenever
we refuse to accept something as a part of us, we project that something onto
others. A projection is like an arrow that flies out of your unconscious and
finds its mark in someone out there.
O King, he spoke thus to Krishna: O Acyuta! Stop my chariot right in the middle
between the two armies,
and Krishna are very old friends, but their relationship is about to grow into
one of the deepest possible: that of guru and disciple. It involves an intense
discipline of releasing your conditioned mindset in order to discover your
actual nature beneath its camouflage of borrowed behavioral clothing, and its
course is filled with many ups and downs.
has found the correct place for a seeker of truth: right in the middle between
the warring factions. The importance of this position cannot be overstressed.
Contrast it with verse two, where Duryodhana is looking strictly from his own
side, which gives him a skewed perspective.
you want to have substantive, positive change, you have to pull your “chariot”
(or whatever you’re riding on) into the middle of the action and calmly study
both (or all) points of view. If you’re attached to one side or the other you
won’t be able to do this. In the search for truth you cannot be partisan.
Similarly, looking on from a remote location as an “armchair philosopher” or “detached
observer” is not helpful. Nataraja Guru used to say, “Armchair philosophy bakes
no bread.” Detachment usually fails in this respect. You have to be in the
thick of the action, or your reactions become abstracted and distant. Finding
the neutral position in the center means you are still engaged, even though you
are detached from partiality or prejudice.
the chariot in the middle is a pictogram of dialectics or yoga, which the Gita
will present in detail throughout its course. One great secret it espouses is
that the Absolute is revealed by the yogic or dialectic balancing of the poles
in any and every situation. An honest yogic appraisal requires your side and
your opponent’s side to be treated neutrally, given equal weight. When we retain
our affiliation with our side, even if we strive for evenhandedness, our view
is inevitably tilted toward our own team. Importantly, out team includes “I”
and its assessment of the “Other.” Any emotional coloration prejudices the
process even further. A wise referee or guru is invaluable at this point,
because they can see what we are blind to. Only when a true picture emerges
from the chaos can an effective act of yogic harmonization occur. The inwardly
or outwardly guided seeker must find the position of neutrality equidistant
from the poles and harmonize all the elements. This automatically extricates
them from their conditioning to reveal the optimal perspective of a judicious
good example of yoga dialectics as it relates to public affairs is in terms of the
degree of independence in our lives. We begin our sojourn on earth as totally
dependent beings, and our early adjustments are mainly to incorporate the
directives of others—parents, teachers, and government officials like police
officers—into our programs. When Arjuna steps into the no-man’s-land between
the contending armies, these are who he sees all around him. What is taught to
children is usually done with the best of intentions, but the result is a
person who has had to abandon their free will in deference to very rigid social
some stage of a healthy life, usually around the mid-teens, the developing
person feels a powerful need to be more independent, to find out who they
really are, and to become themselves. They feel strong desires to do things
that are not permitted or not polite. Quite properly and logically, the first
steps in the direction of independence are to reject the innumerable
dependencies that they have relied on up till then. Rebellion is a kind of visceral
rejection of the bondage experienced by awareness of our prior conditioning.
But it is still based on, and therefore controlled by, the rules and
regulations of society. Rebellion produces a false sense of freedom that comes
from the relief we feel from throwing off the chains of ordered existence, but
it is still dependent on those chains for its impetus.
and entertainment corporations play to this imaginary freedom and sense of
relief, finding it incredibly lucrative. As a side benefit, the rebellious
become tamed by watching televised images of rebellion as a polite substitute
for actual rebellion. That way you don’t rock the boat!
of society is made up of these two types, those who advocate a “return to
traditional values” or “the good old days,” who insist that “being good and
behaving yourself” are the keys to heaven, and those who scorn such childish
attitudes, who experience the thrill of being “bad” once in awhile, sneer at
others’ conformity and so on.
types find that both these attitudes have their limitations. A yogic thinker
steps back and embraces both, allowing them to see the pluses and minuses of
each, as well as to experience a state of neutrality that is the true ground of
freedom. From this contemplative state unbounded action can arise in a natural
and unforced way.
already noted, the lion’s share of the Gita is aimed at achieving this state of
neutrality or balance between contending factors. Don’t despair if you are
somewhat confused about these ideas here at the outset, because we still have a
lot of ground to cover. Best of all, “Even a little of such a way of life saves
one from great apprehension,” as the next chapter puts it. That means we will
benefit very quickly from the efforts we make, as long as they are well
directed. It’s just that the Gita’s philosophy can’t be compressed into a few
slogans. We have to really think about it.
that I may behold these standing eager to fight by my side in the present
stands out in the open, sizing up his side in this verse and his antagonists in
the next. This is not a wise strategy for an actual battlefield. It’s easy to
imagine that Arjuna and Krishna would be instantly annihilated if this was about
real warfare. Author Vyasa can only be speaking of a metaphorical or
metaphysical conflict. As the sage Ramakrishna advised, loving everyone and
everything doesn’t mean we should kiss the hissing cobra. Appropriate,
intelligently directed action is called for at all times in the external world.
while not realistic in the literal sense, figuratively this is exactly what has
to happen. We have to surrender our outpost and move to a place where we can
observe the entire field. We have to shed our defenses and permit ourselves to
particular this movement to the middle is essential for a proper relationship
with a guru, or for that matter in any kind of intimacy. Even as we recognize
their superiority, if we treat the teacher or friend as being “other” than us,
it sets up a disruptive state where we remain somewhat guarded and closed off
to their influence. The process of gaining and giving trust allows for a
closeness in which the inculcation of wisdom (or affection) can successfully
is also applicable to very practical matters. Take the case of relationship
problems with a spouse or other close friend, for instance. Your spouse has
become the “enemy” side, at least temporarily. You are obviously identified
with “your” side. The fight will only escalate when one side is pitted against
the other, even if both are trying to move toward an armistice. When you step
to the middle of the field, you go to a vantage point between your positions,
from where you can scrutinize both with an air of detachment. You concede that
the other person’s position has value, even though you probably don’t agree
with it. Within the pain of ruptured friendship, it is a heroic accomplishment
to move to neutral ground, and a lot of the preliminary work in yoga is to learn
how to get there. But it is the only location where a balanced perspective is
to be obtained.
may be that your significant other is still in the wrong, but in any case you
will see their side in a new light. And it is virtually certain that you share
part of the blame for the blowup, skirmish or battle between you. When we
defend our side we automatically make ourselves blind to our own faults and
exaggerate the other person’s. From a neutral post we can honestly assess both
sides. And it goes without saying that you can only lay out an intelligent
course of action if you have an accurate idea of everyone’s feelings and vested
not that this technique is “only” relational psychology, either, and
spirituality is something more spectacular. The Gita’s vision of spirituality
is to work with intelligent expertise right within the transactional frame of
reference. It is very practical, and not in any sense pie-in-the-sky, intangible
hocus-pocus. Wisdom is not to be divorced from action; it only counts when it
is applied to something significant. The relationship between wisdom and action
will be explored in depth, particularly in Chapters III and IV, but for now we
can see that Arjuna, representing all of us, is embroiled in a dilemma so real
that his very life is at stake.
might observe those here gathered together who desire to please in war the
evil-minded Son of Dhritarashtra.
through the ages Arjuna has been reviled by commentators as a cowardly loser, a
warrior who has lost his nerve, primarily a hapless foil for Krishna’s
teachings. This completely misses one of the most important themes of the Gita:
that he is a model seeker who epitomizes what the role of a disciple requires.
These commentators have missed the boat because they are intent on having
Arjuna return to his prescribed duties as a social being. It reveals their own
veiled attachment to the status quo that undermines their grasp of the Gita’s
and disciple mark the two ends of a continuum, a dialectical polarity defining
the highest arc of evolution humans are capable of. Both poles are equally
necessary for wisdom transmission to take place. The role of a worthy disciple
is to be skeptical and ask probing questions, to which the wise Guru provides
original answers to clarify issues and allay doubts. Guru and disciple are thus
equal partners in the learning process, the former striving to express truth in
ever more suitable terms, while the latter works equally diligently to bring
the words to life in their own being. A mutual transformation takes place in
the process wherein the disciple becomes conjoined with the Guru in a bond of
perfect rapport that is the ideal learning situation.
willingness to go straight to the middle and examine both sides of the conflict
reveals his extraordinary degree of preparation for the upcoming evolutionary
leap. He is in fact the best possible candidate for wisdom in the entire field.
Everyone else remains attached to their allotted role, but the time is ripe for
Arjuna to go beyond his. Again, it is not a weakness but a strength that there
is no happy path for him in this field of conflict. The utter dead end he will
soon see on all sides leaves him no other option than to mentally prostrate at
the feet of a liberated being. Such an act not only produces a true disciple,
in a sense it creates the Guru as well. In this celestial dance the disciple
must take the initiative and make the first move, which Arjuna routinely does
throughout the Gita. The gesture is always mirrored by a response from the
universe at large, in the form of a compassionate teacher.
Nitya Chaitanya Yati describes the initiation of a disciple (diksha in Sanskrit)
in his commentary on
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, titled Living
the Science of Harmonious Union:
The discipline called diksha is essentially to keep all four aspects of the individuated
consciousness free from blemishes. The Sanskrit term diksha is very important because it suggests absolute bipolarity
and continuing attention being given whole-heartedly to the persons, things,
and events with which you are involved in the situation of your search. Only
the most attentive can find his or her path inspiring. In such a discipline,
you do not excuse yourself. Actually, initiation is from the side of the
initiated rather than from the side of one who is initiating. The person who is
seen to be ritualistically giving an initiation is at best only a witness.
Absolute dedication has to come from the initiate. (176)
So the guru does not exactly initiate the
disciple. The disciple is initiated by their own burning interest, after which
the guru may acknowledge the fact with a ceremony of initiation.
apologists lament that Arjuna is abandoning his social duty, and bend the
meaning of the text so it appears that Krishna intends to restore him to that
tightly circumscribed role. But the Gita is presenting the story of the rarest
and most meaningful event in human life: the moment when a great soul, after a
lifetime of preparation, begins to turn away from the bondage of ordinary
duties and discover true freedom. In almost every case it is the reciprocal
pair of Guru and disciple that potentiates the quantum leap. For his part,
Krishna is ecstatic that someone is at last willing to take the leap, and will
coax Arjuna though his learning curve with unmatched cleverness.
is the Gita’s primary teaching, inexplicably glossed over in virtually every
commentary. When one has grown as far as one can in the ordinary course of
life, it becomes necessary to expand one’s consciousness to another level. The
Gita is a textbook for how to effect the transformation. Whether the seeker
thereafter returns to a mundane social role or not is a private decision
between the indwelling Absolute and the transformed one, and must not be
determined by the demands of bystanders, lest the whole process turn out to be
a snare and a delusion.
addressed by Arjuna, Krishna, having stationed that excellent chariot right in
the middle between the two armies,
has been speaking all along, but he is reintroduced here because we may have
gotten mixed up by all the complex layers of the narrative.
“excellent chariot” of Arjuna underlines that he is a great seeker of truth,
not some befuddled nincompoop. The Guru moves with him to the middle of the
scene, just as Arjuna requested, reminding us that it is the disciple who has
to ask for aid, and not the guru’s role to offer it. Theirs are expert
maneuvers, exactly right for the intricate interplay about to unfold between
speaking, the Kurukshetra or field of battle stands for the horizontal world of
actuality, with the Pandavas ranged on the positive side and the Kauravas on
the negative. Arjuna detaches himself from his assigned place in the actual
world and together with Krishna moves to the exact center, the point of
symmetry and balance where horizontal and vertical meet. In a moment he will
ask Krishna to become his guru. This deeply heartfelt action is symbolized by a
ninety degree turn from the horizontal to the vertical, while facing each
other. Then by recognizing Krishna’s guruhood and requesting instruction,
Arjuna moves himself to the vertical negative or alpha pole, while Krishna
rises to the positive, omega pole. Within this perfect bipolar relationship,
Arjuna reaches up as a seeker and Krishna showers down the grace of
enlightenment, in the mystic marriage of guru and disciple.
Bhishma and Drona and all the rulers of the earth, Krishna said: O Arjuna!
Behold these Kurus gathered here.
sides taken together are Kurus. Note that Arjuna looked at first one side and
then the other, but here Krishna indicates them together, as forming a single
group. These are the before and after versions of the yogic vision. We start by
assessing each separate element and striving to unite them, and we finish when
we attain the cosmic view of universal oneness.
is perfectly appropriate that at the outset the Guru calls the disciple’s
attention to the whole panoply of existence, the entire field in all
directions, preparatory to beginning the quest for independence from its undue
influence. The Gita’s way is inclusive, and in no way escapist. If you are not
willing to look at the total context, you are not ready to accept the complete
honesty required for liberation. What you leave out of your philosophy will
inevitably trip you up.
Arjuna saw standing fathers as well as grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles,
brothers, sons, grandsons, and companions too.
immediately does what Krishna asks of him, demonstrating his openness to the
man who he will soon ask to be his guru. Everywhere he looks he sees friends
and relatives, which is the vision of an insightful person. Those caught in the
web of actual events see the world as filled with hostile enemies and masses of
indifferent souls, along with a handful of friends and allies. Only a
philosopher with a neutral and unselfish outlook can perceive the unity beneath
the chaos that makes the human race one huge family.
is beginning to use dialectic thinking. As we’ve noted, our normal way of
intellectualizing about situations is to identify with our own side and treat
the other as separate. Linear thinking can embrace the dichotomy, but it doesn’t
truly resolve anything. That’s because we’re still visualizing it in terms of I
and You, or whatever the polarity is. The transformation comes when we realize
we’re already in the happy median, where I and the Other are aspects of the
universal Self, albeit modestly delusional aspects from an absolutist
perspective. The act of withdrawing from identification with the polarities and
concentering in the Self is the essence of the Yoga of the Gita. That’s why
Arjuna and Krishna actually go to the center of the battle, rather than
standing on their own side, safely behind a barrier, and trying to imagine the
other side as equal in status. That would be the rational way. In Yoga, you
visualize all the aspects as being within yourself, and draw them together
still within yourself. If this sounds confusing—and I’m sure it does—a lot more
clarification lies ahead. Krishna is going to make sure we really get it.
relatively easy to accept the idea of unity, but very challenging to feel it as
an undeniable truth of the heart. Even though he sees his connection to
everyone on the battlefield with him, Arjuna remains confused. He still has to
learn how to make the theory convincingly real, and that will take a lot of
work, plus perhaps a touch of mystical good fortune.
now, here are a couple of examples of yoga made practical. There is a continuum
between the apparent opposites of light and dark. In pure darkness you can’t
see anything. Pure light is likewise so bright you can’t distinguish anything. Only
when there’s a mixture of the two do things become distinguishable. In one
sense it’s the dark (evil!) that makes us able to apprehend light. So we
shouldn’t lean one way or the other; what’s called for is balance. This is true
in physical as well as metaphysical situations. Consider also the binary
computer. All information of one type of bit is no information at all. There
has to be an alternation of on and off or yes and no to produce a meaningful
stream of data.
upon seeing these relatives, fathers-in-law, and friends, all standing, in both
person is born unlimited and a genius, barring physical damage in development,
but over a lifetime we usually learn to think of ourselves in less than ideal
terms. We begin to identify with an ‘I’ that’s limited with an endless string
of conceptions. Negative identities include ‘I’ am stupid, incapable, ugly,
frivolous, irrelevant. Positive identifications are limiting in the same way,
although they do provide a broader canvas for expression: ‘I’ am desirable,
clever, talented, friendly, better than others. Then we have family and tribal
identities, ‘I’ am from the Smith-Jones-Teitsworth clan, ‘I’ am a
white-black-red-yellow shade, ‘I’ am Spanish-Indian-Arab-Jewish; and religious
identities, ‘I’ am Zoroastrian-Sikh-Pantheist-Atheist; and we identify with our
gender and species: ‘I’ am female-male-transgendered, even ‘I’ am human. While
there is a powerful attraction to these identifications, none of them is as
unlimited as the Absolute, because they each have contrary positions such as ‘I’
am not a Sikh. So without denigrating any of these categories, when we seek our
common ground in the Absolute we need to treat them as useful within the
transactional world but inhibiting of the natural absolute freedom that is our
birthright and philosophical lodestar.
really are in this together. Somehow
we are all cells in an ever-developing organism that mysteriously unites us for
superconscious purposes. This is a yogically balanced view that embraces
everyone. And, contrary to the teachings of some exclusive religions, this
Being grows through each and every individual expressing their uniqueness in
new ways. The envelope is especially stretched by those who dare to plunge into
unknown territory. The Gita is extolling a creative approach to life, not
self-extinction in the tried-and-true, in stepping in someone else’s
footprints. How boring to have everyone behaving the same way, following
necrotic rules! What a dull world that would make for.
noosphere is Teilhard de Chardin’s word for the planet’s zone of interconnected
consciousness. It is light and flexible at its outer perimeter, propelled and
enlarged by artists and lovers, thinkers and poets, but becomes denser and more
static as you go toward the center. Those who are afraid to do anything but
what they’re told form the stony core of this planetary being. Those filled
with hate are crushed in the most lifeless places of all.
move to the delightful periphery of the noosphere by embracing more and more of
the light within everything around us, in other words, responding to the call
of the spirit. But before doing that himself, Arjuna spends some time being
overwhelmed by the tragic side of life. It’s a legitimate place to start, and
probably the most common.
of the key distinguishing marks of a spiritually inclined person is that they
care about their world and the people in it. The Gita makes this point by
depicting Arjuna supremely depressed by surveying the scene and seeing how everyone
is out to rob, kill and otherwise abuse each other. All those innately divine
beings have so lost their self-awareness as to sink to the level of what he
will soon describe as a marauding rabble. Given that kind of milieu, people
either decide to become enthusiastic competitors in the melee, or they ponder
how to break out of it and foster a change for the better. Sadly, by the Gita’s
reckoning not more than one in a thousand takes the latter vow and acts on it.
Arjuna is the only soul courageous and insightful enough out of all the
extraordinary people gathered on the Kurukshetra battlefield to turn away from
the chaos and seek wisdom.
28-31) Filled with a supreme pity, in mental
Beholding my own people, O Krishna, standing
together, wanting to fight,
limbs fail and my mouth dries up, my body trembles and my hair stands on end,
bow) Gandiva slips from my hand, my skin feels as if burning all over, I am
unable to stand, and my mind is whirling round,
I see conflicting portents, O Krishna, nor do I foresee good from killing one’s
own people in battle.
to this point in his life Arjuna has had full confidence in the beliefs
instilled by his upbringing. Now that he is thrust into a real-life conflict,
the paradoxes and inconsistencies of social dogmas are thrown into stark
relief, and they no longer satisfy him. Make believe arguments—even if they are
wildly popular and form pillars of the society—don’t hold up under close
is a familiar theme in spiritual life that we will adhere to our habits of
thought as long as we can. Only when they really make us uncomfortable will we
be motivated to change our lives. Shankara famously compared setting out on the
spiritual path to the feelings of a fish in a pond that is drying up, or a deer
caught in a forest fire. All you know is that you have to get the hell out of
distress is intensified by the illusions of his customary attitudes being
stripped away, not only by the stark reality of his situation but by his
willingness to look closely at it. This is the first prerequisite for spiritual
growth. As Arjuna has just done, every seeker must abandon all their guarded
positions, move to a neutral vantage point, and scrutinize the entire picture.
From there they are free to go beyond what is visible to its invisible inner
support system. Failure to take this step means we will stay bound to limited
beliefs, and chained to imaginary benefits such as merit that lead to imaginary
goals such as heaven. Krishna will disabuse Arjuna of those concepts very early
in his training.
we can think of everyday examples, such as when your dear spouse suddenly
reveals that they no longer love you and are leaving for good, or the job you
excel at and count on for your daily bread is suddenly stripped away by a
heartless decision in a distant boardroom. Arjuna’s emotions are how anyone
would naturally feel when the core assumptions of their very being are suddenly
dissolved. It is a deeply shocking and painful confrontation, and like Arjuna
in the coming verses, we naturally cast around for any interpretation that can
give us consolation. It is easy to take refuge in strange mental configurations
when you are grasping at straws. Arjuna is fortunate to have a wise counselor
by his side, to prevent him from jumping to tempting but false conclusions.
the early stages of life, humans are taught by their caretakers to defer to
various authorities. Parents and relatives initially dominate the
decision-making process, but over time relinquish the task of inculcating
social beliefs more and more to church and school. Most of them do not even
realize that that is what they’re doing. They think they are simply helping us
to fit in, which will make us safe and happy.
of our childhood reliance on all-powerful caretakers still lurking in the back
of our mind, what we want more than anything is for a knight on a white charger
to ride up and take command. Most religions satisfy the puerile desire to have
someone else handle our decision making, and it can be a very profitable
occupation. Governments tend to vie for this same power slot, which is why even
dictators pay lip service to being democratic. Separation of church and state
was intended to dismantle the awesome power of their conjunction, since
otherwise they would make all our
decisions. (Oddly enough, religious zealots were the first to call for the
divorce of politics and religion, which were historically wedded, whereas they
now work tirelessly for a closer marriage.)
you begin to look for it, the “savior syndrome” can be seen everywhere, in
westernized countries especially. It makes it seem that the only way out of the
impossible predicaments we perennially find ourselves in is for some god or his
chosen emissary to come down and set things to rights. The impact of such
beliefs is to divest us of our faith in ourselves, in our own ability to
accomplish difficult things. To put it plainly, it makes us impotent.
Gita does not support this crippling power of external authority in any form,
and it maintains we are the only legitimate upholders of our own lives. It was
composed during one of the many periods of history when religious insiders were
stifling and bleeding the populace. The Gita’s thrust is always towards
personal freedom and liberation, and away from blind trust in fixed forms.
Although in classic Indian fashion it posits a wise teacher to deliver its
message, Krishna’s prescription is to pull yourself together and make up your
own mind, and not simply do what you are told. The student is not expected to
surrender their personal integrity to any outside agency.
curious claim that schools train the young to think independently is
understandable if we realize this actually means that they are being trained to
correctly regurgitate pre-selected choices of “right” and “wrong.” In a
complicated world this is a huge project, since every possible contingency must
have a memorized option available. Only after a person is thoroughly
brainwashed can they be considered to properly “think for themselves.” The
process of successfully defeating and socializing an independently-minded spark
of the divine now takes 25 years or more.
Jensen has written eloquently about this. Here’s a sample from A Language Older
Than Words (Context
Books, New York, 2000, p 102-5):
I’ve since come to understand the reason school
lasts thirteen years. It takes that long to sufficiently break a child’s will.
It is not easy to disconnect children’s wills, to disconnect them from their
own experiences of the world in preparation for the lives of painful employment
they will have to endure. Less time wouldn’t do it, and in fact, those who are
especially slow go to college. For the exceedingly obstinate child there is
have nothing against education; it’s just that education… is not the primary
function of schooling….
primary purpose of school… is to lead us away from our own experience. The
process of schooling does not give birth to human beings—as education should
but never will so long as it springs from the collective consciousness of our
culture—but instead it teaches us to value abstract rewards at the expense of
our autonomy, curiosity, interior lives, and time….
as it presently exists, like science before it and religion before that, is
necessary to the continuation of our culture and to the spawning of a new
species of human, ever more submissive to authority, ever more pliant,
prepared… for the rest of their lives to toil, to propagate, to never make
waves, and to live each day with never an original thought nor even a shred of
Jensen has endured shocks as intense as the one
currently energizing Arjuna. Alternatively, human beings could operate much
more openly with a small handful of commonsense principles, if society didn’t
fear chaos and joy quite so much. Free choice threatens the profitable
immobility of the establishment.
is why law books and rule books are ever-expanding, as a substitute for common
sense justice. In my own career as a firefighter, I observed this process first
hand. The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in use when I first hired on
were highly stretched to barely fill 80 pages in one small book. We were
expected to grasp the basic principles, and then use them in combination with
our own intelligence to handle the welter of emergencies we would encounter
during our careers. But soon managerial committees were formed to specify our
actions in every possible type of incident. The human brain being what it is,
each quantum leap in the SOP manual merely opened new cans of worms to be
addressed by future committees. By the time I retired our operations manuals
ran to thousands of densely packed pages, and even the authors were unsure
about the contents. Of course, any failure to comply with any of it incurred a
range of penalties as well. So this is the “blessing of education”: to turn the
free and happy planet into a nightmare world of misery filled with threats of
is pure pleasure when allowed free rein, and tormenting when constrained with
anxiety-producing restrictions. It is no wonder, after a lifetime of stressful “education”
laden with tests of the degree of its assimilation, that the confused and
miserable result of the process finds great relief in abdicating their
responsibility to others who are willing to “take the burden” on themselves.
Religions have even been known to use this exact terminology.
select few assimilate their own abdication of personal integrity so obediently
that they become well adjusted to it. These are “the leaders of tomorrow” who
will happily guide the next flock of lambs to the slaughter. Often these
burden-takers manage to stay outside the rules they have foisted on others, as
with sexually abusive celibate priests and law breaking legislators. The drug
police are often the very sources of contraband. And so it goes.
its quiescent exterior, the modern world has become a vast sea of disconnected
individuals either begging for help from those who appear confident or else
seeking solace in whatever guise it most luridly presents itself. Unscrupulous
people are waiting in the wings to offer false nostrums and simplistic
solutions to whoever will buy them. The world economy is practically based on
this, it is so widespread.
difficult and isolating struggle to extricate ourselves from this miasma is
what the Gita teaches. How do we make our way back to ourselves as fully
functioning, free individuals?
“civilization” suffers war after war is just one of the disasters that emerges
from our loss of integrity. The feeling that we end up with is of trying vainly
to breathe life into the empty image of an imaginary persona we have
constructed to satisfy the demands of society. The gap between our true
feelings and our learned “right” ones is the measure of modern humanity’s
schizophrenia. It is filled with empty pleasures, depression, and mental
derangement. Vast quantities of drugs are required to stifle our innate passion
for freedom, and to breed compliance. Conversely, realigning ourself with our
core nature resolves these problems in the same way that focusing the lens
eliminates a blurred image in a camera or telescope.
Gita is vividly depicting the gap between the unitive state and duality, which
stops Arjuna in his tracks. His distress is by no means overstated. And like
him, finding our way back to unity is the only struggle worthy of our efforts.
do not wish for victory, O Krishna, nor kingdom, nor pleasures; what is kingdom
to us, what enjoyment, or even life?
we’ve been noting, most people are more comfortable with guidance from without
than freedom from within. Real independence requires constant scrutiny and
open-minded consideration of circumstances. What passes for freedom is most
often an ease and fluidity in accepting dictated behaviors. Only when the “tried
and true” leads us to a dead end do we begin to question it and seek
alternatives. Until then we take the path of least resistance. Some “good
citizens” would rather follow orders to bomb children than buck their early
training in obedience and risk their position in the social order. Pyramidal
management structures where all orders come from the top and are to be obeyed
unquestioningly—typical of the military but also essential to many business
models—reinforce the strictures, making independence virtually a vow of poverty
and a guarantee of social ostracism.
is intelligently renouncing the dog-eat-dog world of the rat race,
demonstrating he is ready to learn higher spiritual values in place of
struggling endlessly for material gains, which so often come at the expense of
less well-connected rivals.
the interpersonal context, defeating our enemy means driving a friend with whom
we are in conflict away. Victory in the traditional sense is thus a total loss
in the spiritual sense. Arjuna does not want to gain the whole world and in the
process lose his own soul.
33 & 34) They for whose sake kingdom,
enjoyments, and pleasures are desired by us, are standing here in battle,
having renounced their interests in life and wealth—
fathers, sons, and also grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law,
grandsons, brothers-in-law, as well as other kinsman,
33 voices a paradox from ancient times, when the actual interested parties did
their own fighting. Nowadays war is more often fought by proxies with little to
gain and a lot to lose from the outcome. Here Arjuna realizes that he is
fighting for the benefit of the very people who have joined in the conflict,
and thus surrendered themselves to possible destruction. They seek constructive
ends but embrace destructive means. Logically this is absurd, but such illogic
continues to plague the human race to this day.
if we step back and survey the whole scene, as Arjuna is doing at the moment,
can we learn the lessons of the battles we fight in the course of our lives.
Frequently we find that our own weaknesses and faults have led us directly into
the crisis in which we find ourselves. Usually, during calm times, we can
readily ignore our faults. Only when we are challenged by some seemingly
hostile force, when we’re “under fire,” do our weaknesses come to the fore so
we can consciously deal with them. The intensity of the conflict is
instrumental in overcoming our ego defenses.
Arjuna notices here, it’s his own beloved friends and family that embody those
apparently hostile forces. That means they are blessings in disguise. Very
often the lessons we need to learn are played out with friends and associates
rather than some obvious “enemy.” They could well be treated positively as
spiritual problems rather than negatively as undeserved adversity.
first, when our friends reveal our faults to us, we may try to bluff our way
through with some aggressive bluster, not unlike the clangor of conches echoing
over the Gita’s field of battle. Some of us never stop pretending, and most of
the rest succumb to the urge to retreat or flee. Once our ego is thwarted we
initially feel an impulse to simply give up—abandon the field—and let the other
side have its way. Arjuna is voicing the same desire to abdicate the struggle
in this section of verses. Yet ultimately, with Krishna’s support, Arjuna will
do the right thing and stand his ground. He will turn to his wise counselor and
begin to work honestly and fearlessly on his impossible dilemma instead of
retreating into ordinariness.
Gita here underscores a crucial truth: when the course of our life leads us to
a spiritual crisis, it is the greatest blessing disguised as opposition. Don’t
fight and don’t run, but stand firmly on truth, and learn. Benign help is
invariably nearby, ready to serve you. Its form may be hard to recognize, but
it will be there.
I do not want to kill, though they kill me, O Krishna, not even for the sake of
dominion over the three worlds—how then for the sake of the earth?
three worlds are earth, heaven and in between. This is Arjuna’s cosmology, and
is a widely held belief even today. Now we might call them the physical,
metaphysical and intermixed realms. Arjuna pleads that the war is only about earthy,
material issues, which are of little import to him, certainly not worth killing
over. He doesn’t want dominion, or domination, over anyone or anything. Such an
attitude represents an early but substantial stage of progress on the spiritual
path, of beginning to dissociate himself from the context of suffering. Making
other people’s decisions for them definitely leads to suffering all around.
quickening notwithstanding, we can distinctly hear the note of despair here.
Arjuna is in a lot of pain. He is willing to admit defeat and surrender without
a fight. Slinking away may seem like an honorable way out, but our troubles
follow us wherever we slink off to. We can let our spouse go, and insist we don’t
care any more, but the hole in our heart has not yet been healed. Even if we
take the enemy here as corporate greed, we must not compromise our principles
in confronting it. If we combat evil with evil, we have already lost. History
is replete with high-minded revolutions that were rapidly co-opted in this way
to become the next wave of oppression.
this early stage, Arjuna is struggling with renunciation, which is admirable,
but his take on it is negative, which is not. Renunciation will be treated in
depth toward the end of the Gita, but it has to be exquisitely balanced. A
positive or negative slant will contaminate the result, making it egotistical
instead of pure. When we tell our friend “Okay, just go!” we don’t really mean
it, we really mean “Please stay!” Quitting is the ego’s response, and not the
heart’s. Over the course of the Gita, Arjuna will learn how to take Krishna’s impending
advice (in II, 3) to “cast off this base faint-heartedness.”
killed the sons of Dhritarashtra, what delight can there be for us? Only sin
would come to us after killing this marauding rabble.
apparently straightforward, there is a lot of subtle confusion evidenced in
this verse. Arjuna is ostensibly renouncing his personal delight, and yet he
justifies his attitude here based on that very value. He may be beginning to
suspect that his prescribed duty is not designed to produce delight, which is a
spiritual state, but exists merely for others to use him as a tool to tinker
with the status quo. Yet his inner urge is for happiness, spiritual
satisfaction. He needs help in resolving this conflict. Furthermore, he has
been inculcated with the unjustified belief that his actions accrue either
future merit or demerit, the latter popularly known as sin. While actions
definitely do have consequences, there is no celestial scorecard being logged
towards a looming Day of Judgment. Krishna will disillusion him of this and
many other erroneous beliefs in his upcoming instruction.
a proper guru, Krishna addresses sin in the Gita because his disciple
specifically brings it up. Since it is widely misunderstood, sin is an
obsession for many people, and Arjuna is presenting it on everyone’s behalf for
correction. Gurus have to dispel all the darkness brought to their attention,
and we will see how diligently Krishna answers every question Arjuna puts to
him as we go along.
Gita is dealing here with a key factor in the oppression of the human race.
Arjuna has been taught to respect all the social strictures and rules of
decorum, and that it would be sinful to do away with them, since they have come
from something like “God” and are divinely ordained. Societies have often
enforced their more or less arbitrary systems with exhortations about hell
worlds and sin, casting disobedience as an outrage against everything sacred
and a guarantee of doom. The Gita, by contrast, considers socio-religious
systems themselves to be stumbling blocks to wisdom and spiritual freedom, repeatedly
advocating their ouster from the seeker’s orientation.
commentators side with Arjuna’s confusion in this matter and advocate proper
path-following and rule-following behavior, revealing their lack of
understanding of the Gita’s radical outlook, and furthering the very systematic
imprisonment of the spirit the Gita aims to sweep away.
so we ought not to kill the Sons of Dhritarashtra, our relations; for how
indeed can we be happy after killing our own people, O Krishna?
has been taught that the way to happiness lies in venerating the social order,
not abandoning it. He believes that salvation comes through following a
well-defined pathway, that of orthodoxy, and he is still identified with it.
But confronted as he is by stark reality, his fantasies no longer seem
adequate. He needs to discard them and replace them with a more solid
framework. It is doubts, much more than convictions, that lead intrepid souls
to a search for truth.
the literal story line we’ve been observing, Arjuna does not want to defeat his
friends. He realizes that “beating” them means losing their love, and possibly
their very existence. The paradox clutches at his heart, because he knows the
path of happiness does not lie here. But where is it to be found?
any case, Arjuna is clear that killing is not going to make him happy. This is
a logical enough inference, but we will see over the next few verses how he
goes from this point of universal agreement to some wildly bizarre assumptions.
This is typical of humans. We start with plausible ideas and don’t notice when
we move away from them into untenable waters, even when we drift far out to
sea. The Gita will teach us how to recover our solid ground through diligent
Guru attributes Arjuna’s exaggerated speculation to his relativistic stance,
indicated by the phrase “our own people” here and in verse 28. Separating
people into his and not-his is an unwarranted
Absolutism holds to universal truth, while relativism or dualism can lead us
far afield. Therefore yogis do not allow themselves to indulge in relativism.
The Guru insists that:
Contemplation is not different from commonsense
in its keenness of the sense of the actual. Lazy indifference to actuality is
not the kind of mysticism upheld in the Gita. [It] underlines the need for
seeing things as they actually are before the contemplative life is
recommended, so that no escapism may be implied in the teaching. (32-33)
Arjuna here, a yogi is not thrown off balance by circumstances, or at least
they are able to minimize their disturbance. If our happiness isn’t dependent
on external events, our sadness shouldn’t be, either. A yogi remains the same,
grounded in truth, no matter what happens. Even laughing or crying about it,
the yogi’s core is not disturbed. This will be honed in on much later in Arjuna’s
now we have to move away from the literal interpretation and penetrate to the
symbolic meaning. In order to fully appreciate the Gita’s teachings, we have to
sense that there is an internalizing transition going on here. The focus is
fading away from the actual battlefield and moving into the psychological
realm. The warriors become symbols of conscious limitations. Most importantly,
killing them as people is changing over to killing them as elements of the
psyche that inhibit full awareness. The semi-literal cover story becomes a
figurative passion play. Nataraja Guru speaks of several curtains or filters
that progressively enclose more and more subtle considerations. Only at the
very end will we return to the actual battlefield, where we can apply our
newfound wisdom to every practical aspect of our life.
“Sons of Dhritarashtra,” then, represent the various conditionings and mental
blocks creating mayhem in Arjuna’s psyche, epitomized as desire in Chapter III. Knowing this, his question in this verse
becomes, “How does happiness arise from wiping out the attractions and
motivations I have been taught to yearn for and work toward?” In other words,
if we turn away from the transactional realm we know so well, what will we
find, and will it make us happy? Without a satisfactory answer to this
initiating perplexity, a person has no incentive to enter a spiritual path.
double entendre here about “killing our own people” is usually missed. Arjuna
is having recourse to a Guru who will most definitely tell him how happiness
does come from “killing” the conditioning laid down in him by his own people. He
will show him how it oppresses him and estranges him from his dharma, his
authentic self. Arjuna is confused; Krishna is not.
who believe the killing advocated is of real people are also confused, and they
have seriously damaged the Gita’s reputation, converting a paean to peace,
justice and living with expertise into a call to slaughter. We will examine
this fallacy in detail in a number of places. For now, suffice it to say the
Gita advocates kindness to all beings, compassion and non-hurting, among other
“wisdom virtues.” It is really a shame that such an unparalleled masterpiece
has been shunted to the sidelines by those who insist on a literal
interpretation of its symbolic genius.
if they, whose minds are overpowered by greed, see no wrong in the destruction
of family, and no crime in treachery to friends,
complaint over the next seven verses is often taken as part of the Gita’s
gospel, but it is in fact his previously accepted unexamined position that will
be subject to radical revision by the Guru Krishna. We can see that Arjuna is
cast as being subject to the representative prevailing beliefs of his time.
Author Vyasa is saying “Here is a typical human, and what they typically
believe.” Fortunately for the relevance of this section, modern attitudes aren’t
much different: ancestor worship and divinity worship are the two main strands
of religious beliefs of all times. Modern religions cherish their sacred
history and immanent mysticism, while science bows to evolution and nature. We
all take cognizance of the past and try to make sense of the present based on
what we believe about it. It works adequately, until it bumps up against
something that reveals its falsehood.
to Vedanta, Arjuna’s position is the anterior skeptic, that is, the starting
point of the investigation. The anterior skeptic asks why, and the preceptor
offers clarification. Krishna will revise and reevaluate all of Arjuna’s
assumptions in several ways, with the intention of converting his disciple to a
much more liberated viewpoint.
is so much evidence in our present day of the destructive power of greed that
it seems almost ludicrous to discuss it. The political cabals and giant
corporate entities that dominate the Earth’s power structures are currently
rapt in a paroxysm of looting. They see no evil in what they do, because not
only are corporations morally blind by law, the psychopaths who gravitate to
power positions are neurologically incapable of distinguishing right from
wrong. It appears that the entire world economy may well be shattered by
unmitigated greed, which will truly be destructive of families and friends in
the long run.
law and electronic surveillance of the populace is the logical outcome of the
belief in social systems being more important than individual freedom. Human
beings have a strong inclination toward repression and setting their power
positions in stone, but unchecked power opens a Pandora’s box of unintended
consequences. Who will watch the watchers is a reasonable question.
freedom, certainly, is less about bodily movement than about freedom of
thought. Free speech is merely a subset of freedom of thought. While paying lip
service to freedom, political and religious leaders preach subservience to
binding laws. Contrary to popular misconception, freedom produces artistic
beauty in thought and deed; it is the conditioned and constrained soul that has
to seek its outlets in crime. Unhappy people sometimes cast about for happiness
through unhealthy and even execrable means.
this we will delve into in due course. The important thing to keep in mind here
is that Arjuna has gotten to the point in his development where commonly
accepted beliefs are seen to be contradictory and even hypocritical. They no
longer can satisfy him. He wonders where to turn, and miraculously there is a
guru close at hand. The invisible hand of Providence is always ready to assist
in the next stage of spiritual growth.
why should we not learn to turn away from this sin—we who do see wrong in the
destruction of family?
very subtle psychology is revealed by close examination of Arjuna’s confusion. When
we enter a crisis, we cling tenaciously to our models of truth regardless of
their relevance. Since we’re grasping at straws to ameliorate the danger, when
the first straw breaks we flail around for another, and another, and another.
As this section unfolds, Arjuna becomes increasingly desperate and melodramatic.
He begins with the reasonable premise that the war will quite literally destroy
his family, at least a significant part of it. Then step by step he uses ever
more ridiculous arguments to prop up his house of cards.
the course of our lives we have become supported and cushioned by the myths of
the society in which we live. Unable to stand up to rational examination, these
are often enforced by threatening concepts like sin. As a child, when I asked
my father why some arbitrary rule forbade my doing something, his answer was
always “Because I said so!” If I didn’t accept it, I would be smacked. The use
of force precludes the need to understand, allowing unexamined beliefs to
persist. The child learns to self-censor its natural urge to question, and
grows up to be a supporter of the prevailing social climate.
relations are likewise often based on mythical assumptions, and a delusional
couple does not dare to probe too far into their beliefs, lest they discover
they don’t actually agree. They live in hope of the apple cart of mutual
fantasy never being upset, and when it is they scramble to put it back together
and reload it with all the old apples. Only the brave of heart can rejoice that
their cart was bound to overturn, and now a new way is open to them. They leave
their rotten apples for compost and look around for fresh produce.
the literal level, there is a devilish paradox here. The enemy has been busily
destroying Arjuna’s family for a very long time, and his role is to defend it.
Yet the prescribed way to defend it, war, will destroy even more of it.
Obviously he will have to seek a new way to remedy matters. As do we.
the destruction of family, the immemorial clan traditions perish, and on the
loss of tradition the whole clan comes under the sway of lawlessness.
we encounter Arjuna’s conservative streak. There is a widespread assumption
even today that current social standards are rooted in traditions dating from
the beginning of time. Even a casual perusal of history explodes this myth. The
world and everyone in it experience continuous change and fluctuating
circumstances. Fads come and go. The elders of the tribe aren’t upholding immemorial
tradition, only their preferred interpretation of it. The “good old days” never
were what they claim. Nostalgia for an imaginary past is a sure sign, not that
the past was so great, but that we are discontent with the present. And that’s
perfectly understandable, but there are far better things to do about it than
try to reconstruct a vanished and imaginary historical period. We need to
resurrect the present, not the past.
who has lived through an important moment of history knows how impossible it is
to describe that moment accurately. Each person has a unique perspective on it,
and the whole is vastly more than any fragmentary sum of parts. The victors
write history, it is said. Whoever prevails in a conflict or is merely promoted
in the communication media has their own description of events ratified by
default. Admittedly, myths enshrining a particular interpretation of history
have some value in maintaining social coherence, but they mainly serve to keep
the weak subservient to the mythmakers. A spiritual seeker has to call all of
them into question.
these conservative attitudes is a lack of faith in the light of the unitive Absolute
as a source of inspiration and a guide for life’s unfoldment. Creativity
springs from the removal of inhibitions and restraints, which allows our inner
resources to emerge from the depths. Ordinary conditioned responses to life’s
challenges act to close off these wellsprings. It’s another frustrating paradox
that the devout actively block out the divine while piously praising it,
substituting familiar imagery for living reality. Fledgling philosophers crave
laws set in stone, and learn to mistrust the dictates of the heart. The only
article of faith necessary at the outset of a spiritual quest is that there is
a guiding light within us that we are going to open our eyes to. It starts as a
hypothesis, but one that is soon confirmed by experience. Or else a lucky
accident like near death or a psychedelic trip reveals the light right at the
Since humans value stability and dread
change, tyrants have ever invoked “law and order” to rally the populace to
their cause. Their typically egregious behavior is propped up by a widespread
fear of lawlessness. We can either have a deranged leader, a blind king
perhaps, or be hurled screaming into the void. “You’re either with us or
against us.” Black and white belief-systems leave no healthy option. It appears
Arjuna has been conned by this sophistry, still flourishing in the modern
world, but now he’s beginning to wonder if it’s claims are valid or not. His
reeling off the prevailing beliefs of his milieu will help the scales fall from
his eyes as they prove untenable.
to Arjuna’s fears, the aftermath of war appears to be the time when sanity is
most likely to prevail in public affairs. International pacts—related to the
Latin pax, or peace—succeed every bloodbath. The League of Nations was formed
after World War I, the United Nations in the wake of World War II. Immediately
after the Vietnam War, the last attempt to reign in the United States secretive
military-industrial complex brought legal restrictions that held up for a
decade or two. Unfortunately, these cautious steps in the right direction
seldom have a lasting impact. As long as citizens willingly surrender their
independence to their leaders, this dismal state of affairs will persist.
pattern can be discerned in many places. Regarding marital relations, for
instance, in the midst of a disadoption or breakup everything appears to
collapse. It can be painful in the extreme, but it is also liberating. It is a
golden opportunity when static forms fall apart to permit regeneration, either
with the old partner or perhaps not. Whatever the eventual outcome, this is the
time for serious personal reassessment, perhaps along the lines of Krishna’s
yoga instruction, which will soon make its appearance.
wrong ways prevail, O Krishna, the women of the family become corrupt, and when
women become corrupt, mixing of clans arises.
Arjuna progressively abandons all good sense. First he assumes that if his
traditions are wiped away, their replacement will inevitably be terrible. This
is a pure presumption, springing from his fear of the unknown. As noted above,
traditions are created to support a static view of the present, usually
benefiting the dominant interests, so they are often more a curse than a
blessing. Breaking out of them allows more individual freedom, which leads to a
continues to struggle with his beliefs here, like a snake slowly shedding a
skin that’s too tight. He imagines that if women dare to marry out of their
tribe, it is a form of corruption, even if there are no men from their own tribe
left alive. He has been taught that the mixing of tribes is evil. The genetic
facts that species are strengthened by diversity and weakened by inbreeding
hasn’t percolated into Arjuna’s awareness yet. Worst of all, he blames women
for all the corruption, even though the need for it was brought about by men in
the first place.
as well is the outdated assumption that war is wholly the domain of males. At
the time of the battle of Kurukshetra, the tactic of civilians being legitimate
targets in warfare was still two thousand years in the future. Women were thus
left over after a war. They would either have to marry the victors or die, as
they couldn’t be permitted to live alone.
a corrective, the Gita will proclaim a transcendent vision of the unity of the
human species that has been echoed by generations of sages and recently become
scientifically confirmed by the human genome project. The Gita definitively
states (IX, 32) that women and members of all levels of society, including the
most humble, can attain realization of the highest truth, which acknowledges
their equal status as infinitely capable beings.
now know that humanity is a single “clan” or family descended from a common
ancestor about 50,000 years ago, though with plenty of superficial diversity
due to local variations. Every war is thus a civil war. Nor is there
necessarily any “corruption” of women possible, so long as they are given free
choice in the matter. Mating across the entire spectrum is not only perfectly
normal, but is healthy for many reasons. Provincial attitudes like the ones
Arjuna is repeating have consigned women to second class status for millennia,
despite the Gita’s sincere effort to end the problem.
live in a time of a great “mixing of clans,” where the branches of the human
race are sharing their DNA far and wide. This can only benefit genetic
diversity, producing new forms of genius along with fewer distinctions for
making out an enemy.
this section, Vyasa is not presenting timeless truths to be upheld, but the foundation
of sexism and provincialism prevailing in Arjuna’s day. That most societies
still suffer from these ills is partly due to inertia, but must also be blamed
on generations of commentators who used Arjuna’s pleading to reinforce their
delusory attitudes instead of following the Gita’s advice and discarding them.
Little wonder that ‘pundit’ has become a derisive term, though it was not so
mixing leads (both the) family and the destroyers of the family to hell, for their
ancestors fall when deprived of their offering of rice balls and water rites.
religious training is increasingly shown to be absurd. We should be able to
hear Vyasa laughing uproariously in the background. Oceans of ink have been
spilled to justify such religious references, but the point is to make fun of
these outmoded (even by 500 BCE) practices, not to support them. That modern
humans cling to such absurdities is tragic and humorous at the same time. There
is humor in the illusory fulfillment to be gotten from arbitrary beliefs, and
the tragedy comes when such beliefs inevitably lead generation after generation
into abject misery, by fostering misguided pursuits up to and including warfare.
Gita does not support the idea of hell, beyond the negative effects of a person’s
actions. Its three worlds are heaven (or the beyond), earth, and in between.
Heaven and hell are psychological states of existence in the present, not the
these misdeeds of the destroyers of families, causing intermixture of clans,
the immemorial traditions of clan and family are destroyed.
desperation is reaching a peak, as he spirals down to the negative limit of
psychic despair. He lashes out with ridiculous imaginings, which are—not coincidentally—the
bedrock beliefs of his very conservative society. Author Vyasa is not just
making fun of these notions, he is setting them up to be reassessed and
revalued over the course of the Gita.
example of the failure to understand that these verses express the
uninstructed, confused attitude of upholders of caste and other destructive
beliefs is found in Eric J. Sharpe’s A
Universal Gita (Open Court Pub. Co., La Salle, Ill., 1985) p. 162:
There are passages in the Gita which speak as
clearly as one can imagine of the necessity of observing one’s own specific
caste duty. It is better to perform the duty of one’s own caste badly than
another’s duty well. To confuse castes leads to the most horrendous
consequences, even to the extent of women being debauched and the ancestors
toppling out of heaven, deprived of their offerings of food and drink….There
can be no two opinions: the Gita does indeed advocate caste and uphold the
notion of caste law.
there are at least two opinions. With
the exception of the second sentence in the above quote, which refers obliquely
to III, 35 and XVIII, 47, all these points are stated by Arjuna right here as a
seeker who has come up against the limitations of the beliefs he was taught by
his society. He is turning to Krishna to resolve these issues, and Krishna is
going to—by sweeping them all away as relativistic drivel.
can readily understand that at first blush these verses do appear to support
Sharpe’s opinion, which is very widely held. However, it is unconscionable that
a commentator should fail to bring enough insight to the task as to see that
the Gita clearly and unequivocally treats such beliefs as ignoble stumbling
blocks to a proper spiritual orientation.
of families whose clan traditions are destroyed are destined to live in
hell—thus we have heard.
saying “Thus we have heard,” Arjuna makes it clear that the ideas he has been
reeling off are all things he has been taught. He is questioning the value of
his religious beliefs, as anyone should who is caught in a dire emergency. From
here on he will couch his despair in more philosophic terms, which is a
prerequisite for asking for the aid of a guru. First a seeker must realize that
they are caught, which occasions a substantial degree of despair. Then they
must assess their own limitations, and the limits of what they have been
taught. Only then are they fit to approach a guru.
whose lives have collapsed through divorce, bankruptcy, criminal activity and
the like, are in a state of hellishness, no doubt about it. The misery of their
state is in direct proportion to how hard they cling to the familiarity of the past.
Life is forever opening up new venues, if we can but see them, but we
perversely want to promulgate the old, even when it proves disastrous. If we
cannot adapt to and even promote new circumstances, we will be consigned to
live in the hell world of those whose hopes don’t match their actualities. And
no amount of wishful thinking is going to restore what has already passed away.
key quality for excellence in a disciple is the ability to ask good questions.
In the Indian model, at least, the sishya or student is required to ask
well-considered questions of the teacher. The teacher or Guru is merged in
contemplation of the Absolute, and so only responds when a disciple draws them
out. The image often invoked is of a milkmaid milking the great divine Cow that
supplies all nourishment. You must pull on the udder to get the nourishing milk
of wisdom. If you don’t pull, the milk stays where it is, out of reach.
Pondering deeply in order to come up with a germane question is the sacred duty
of the sishya. Guru and sishya are therefore locked in a dialectical,
reciprocal dance, and one is not superior to the other. Both are equally
nourished in the process of question and answer. Arjuna is moving rapidly
toward the moment when he will offer himself to Krishna as just such a seeker
of truth. The “thus we have heard” also shows he is separating himself from
what he has been taught, and is becoming prepared to learn intensely through
alert questioning of his teacher.
A great sin are we engaged in committing in endeavoring to kill our own people
through greed for the pleasures of kingdom!
Arjuna speaks of sin in his pained outburst, pundits through the ages have
taught that the Gita treats sin as a great evil, and something to be avoided.
In Chapter V, verse 15, Krishna says, “The all-pervading One takes cognizance
neither of the sinful nor the meritorious actions of anyone,” which should be
taken as the Gita’s final say in the matter. Arjuna is still correct that
killing is evil of course, within the horizontal, social milieu in which he is
presently bound, but Krishna is going to draw him out of the limited context to
one that is infinitely vast and unlimited. Moral codes are only appropriate for
social interaction. Arjuna’s greatness has led him to need to incorporate the
transcendental—here represented by the person of Krishna—into his world. As of
yet he does not know how to infuse his present circumstances with a cosmic
perspective. He is truly caught in the toils of necessity.
would be better for me if the Sons of Dhritarashtra, arms in hand, should kill
me, unarmed and unresisting, in the battle.
section bringing Chapter I to a close presents a wonderful example of how
rational, linear thinking can take the seeker far afield. Arjuna is now so
confused he would rather die than act normally, even to defend his own life. It
is crucial to remember that he began his train of reasoning from a shaky
premise, which has now led him to all sorts of unwarranted conclusions. He
based his ideas on unquestioned attitudes passed on to him by society, along
with his direct perception of objects and actions. Such logical but futile
thought patterns are plentiful in our day as well. They actually serve well
enough in everyday, material matters, but fall short in the domain of the mind
and spirit, such as in contemplation, where we seek to rise above mundane
considerations. The Gita will counter this ordinary and unexamined process with
dialectic reasoning, which it sometimes calls yoga or else merely implies by
the juxtaposition of opposites in the text. Where linear thinking can lead one
astray, dialectics converges on a central truth value. Because Arjuna is
evolving from an ordinary bumbling mortal into a contemplative seeker of truth,
he is ready to incorporate this higher form of reasoning into his arsenal of
mind-weapons. A full appreciation of dialectics will emerge gradually from a
study of the Gita as a whole.
having spoken in the midst of the battle, Arjuna sat down in his chariot seat,
casting away his bow and arrow, his mind overwhelmed with sorrow.
moderately upset just won’t launch you properly onto the spiritual path. Arjuna
is now seriously miserable, which gives him the energy to break out of his
dilemma. Symbolically he drops his weaponry, the tools of his trade, which he
will equally symbolically pick back up at the end of the Gita, when he is ready
to carry on with his life as a fully instructed disciple. A seeker must take a
break from their routine—no matter what it is—in order to plumb the depths. The
Bhagavad Gita is an eighteen chapter lacuna in the epic Mahabharata, a break
which transforms Arjuna from a seeker into a seer.
summation, most people lose themselves in their allotted role in life. When
asked “Who are you?” they answer “I’m a student,” or a housewife or a middle
executive or a bricklayer. They become intimately identified with their role.
Only when the chips are down and the situation becomes charged with tension and
unhappiness will they question this identification. It is important for us to
discover that we are much more than what we do, what we enjoy, and even what we
first response to excessive stress is generally to want to run away from it.
Arjuna contemplates a noble escape, desiring to become a religious renunciate.
In our day the more usual options are to throw ourselves into work, be
entertained, or use stress-relieving drugs. None of these is sufficient by
itself to reveal the Absolute, the core truth of our inner being.
the chosen escape, Krishna will point out that it is dishonorable. It doesn’t
make the grade. The only valid option is to stand and face the music. While he
appears to be exhorting Arjuna to literally fight in the next chapter, this is
only because Arjuna is indeed a warrior in an actual war. It is not meant as an
exhortation to fight per se, but only to do what is appropriate. Krishna first
counsels action in tune with one’s role in life. If that is not
satisfactory—and for a sincere seeker it seldom is—then one should go beyond to
become what the Gita sees as the optimal choice. It is unequivocally recommended
at the end of Chapter VI that Arjuna should become a yogi.