The Bhagavad-Gita Reflection
The original Bhagavad-Gita was written somewhere between 400 and 200 B.C. Despite its age, it is still a relevant Hindu text that is studied and lived by today. It can easily be applied to one’s everyday life, even for one who is not Hindu. The text is full of lessons from the Hindu entity, Krishna, when Arjuna, a prince, comes across difficult questions about war and life. The Bhagavad-Gita covers Arjuna’s dilemma and how Krishna helps him make a decision about it; this is a fine example of how one’s worldview can affect decisions made.
In the beginning of the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna, one of the main characters, introduced the dilemma of war and killing his kin. Arjuna is the leader of the small Pandava army that is about to fight Duryodhana’s larger army. The reason Arjuna wants to battle is because King Dhritarashtra is trying to pass the kingdom down to Duryodhana when the rightful ruler is Arjuna’s brother, Yudhishthira. (Miller, 1986, Ch.1, Lines 1-20). However, in the first teaching, Arjuna is upset that Duryodhana’s army is full of his family, “I do not want to kill them even if I am killed, Krishna; not for kingship of all three worlds, much less for the earth!” (Miller, 1986, Ch.1, Line 35). In other words, Arjuna does not want to win a kingdom if it means killing his family. He goes on asking, “How can we ignore the wisdom of turning from the evil when we see the sin of family destruction, Krishna?” (Miller, 1986, Ch.1, Line 39). He sees destroying family as sinful and does not want to be a part of that. Despite Arjuna’s lack of fighting spirit, Krishna insists that he continue into battle.
Krishna, an entity fighting with Arjuna, is the one who counsels him through this dilemma. He convinces Arjuna to fight by speaking about his faith and wisdom. Krishna first states that Arjuna is being a coward and that if he turns back he will lose his honor. He says in the second teaching, “Our bodies are known to end, but the embodied self is enduring…” (Miller, 1986, Ch.2, Line 18). Krishna is talking about reincarnation. He basically tells Arjuna that it is okay to kill people in this war because they will simply reincarnate. There are plenty of other lessons that Krishna goes through, but one of the most prominent is the one about having faith in Krishna and the supreme god. He insists in the seventh teaching, “practice discipline in my protection, with your mind focused on me…” (Miller, 1986, Ch. 7, Line 1). In order to be apart from the material world and get a good afterlife, Arjuna must devote his life to Krishna and the Hindu religion. With these and many other lessons, Krishna persuades Arjuna that it is okay for this battle to happen.
The Bhagavad-Gita is a valuable text from the Hindu religion, and therefore accurately represents how a worldview can affect decisions. Everyone has their own way of viewing the world. In the case of Arjuna, he views the world through a Hindu worldview. At first, Arjuna did not want to carry through with the war. However, Krishna, an entity of the Hindu religion, persuaded him otherwise. Arjuna says after all of Krishna’s lessons, “Krishna, my delusion is destroyed, and by your grace I have regained memory; I stand here my doubt dispelled, ready to act on your words.” (Miller, 1986, Ch. 18, Line 73). Arjuna decided to continue into battle because he believed what Krishna was saying. Other world views are exactly like this. People make decisions and take actions based on what they believe. World views have a huge impact on how decisions are made.
In conclusion, the Bhagavad-Gita is an influential piece of religious text. Arjuna was faced with the problem of going to war with family members he did not want to kill. However, Krishna persuaded him to continue into battle to be honorable. He claimed that death was not going to be the end of these people, but rather they would be reincarnated into another body. Among other lessons, Krishna told Arjuna to follow him wholeheartedly and to put the material world aside in order to reach true purpose. In a way, this represents the way world views affect the way decisions are made. People, like Arjuna, will always make decisions based on what they believe.
Miller, B. S., (1986). The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s counsel in time of war. New York: Columbia University Press
The Fundamental Role of Discipline in the Bhagavad Gita’s Moral Teachings
The Bhagavad Gita presents a unique system of moral teachings that characterized the “…sociopolitical and religious reality of South Asia…” in early first century AD (Flood, Martin, pg. xiii). It involves an interaction between two characters: Arjuna, a powerful warrior, and Krishna, a supreme deity who acts in human form. Arjuna faces a challenging dilemma when he perceives that his duty as a warrior will eventually lead him to slay his kinsmen who fight for his enemies. Krishna uses this conflict to remind Arjuna of the importance of fulfilling his prescribed duty, also referred to as his dharma. The idea of dharma is a foundational aspect of Krishna’s teaching throughout the Bhagavad Gita. A person’s dharma dictates the way they must act and varies depending on their social class. It is not limited to mere completion of responsibilities but rather extends to the individual’s mindset and intentions as they act upon their tasks. To achieve the highest form of dharma, the individual must focus on action alone without becoming attached to its consequences or results. Krishna emphasizes this teaching by encouraging Arjuna to disregard the impending deaths of his kinsmen and to concentrate on his job as a warrior. The ultimate goals of fulfilling dharma without attachment include a deep relationship with Krishna and eternal purification. As Krishna states, “One who, in acting, consecrates / all of his actions to Brahman / shed of attachments, is unstained / like a lotus leaf by water” (5.10). While dharma is the ideal of human behavior, it cannot be achieved without the consistent exercise of discipline. As a fundamental element of the Bhagavad Gita’s teachings, discipline involves both physical action and mental detachment from action’s results as a means of achieving liberation from the cycle of reincarnation.
The practice of discipline begins with physical action. As demonstrated by Krishna’s dilemma, a person’s dharma may include tasks that they find challenging to complete. It is in these situations that discipline is paramount, driving the individual to prioritize their duty over their emotions. They must accomplish their tasks regardless of their feelings. In addition, discipline in action is a defining quality of one’s daily behavior. Krishna outlines a model for disciplined behavior throughout the Bhagavad Gita. According to his teaching, a disciplined person is “…solitary, lightly eating / controlled in body, speech and mind, / meditating, doing yoga, / finding refuge in dispassion…” (18.87). As they practice these things, they achieve the highest form of discipline by dissolving all attachment to their actions’ effects. This is defined as “…karma yoga: the practice of detached action rooted in virtue in which the results of that action are surrendered to God” (Flood, Martin, xii). Based on this reasoning, an individual’s actions serve as a means of glorifying Krishna and fulfilling dharma, rather than achieving a goal. Acting according to the practice of discipline plays a crucial role in this process. As Krishna tells Arjuna “One disciplined by higher mind / here casts off good and bad actions; / therefore, be yoked to discipline; / discipline is skill in actions” (2.50). Man learns this skill by consciously practicing action without thought for attachment and by fighting against his natural tendency to derive motivation from external results. Krishna continues to reiterate the importance of discipline in action throughout the text, stating that “…he whose mind controls his senses, / who undertakes the discipline / of action by the action-organs, without attachment, is renowned” (3.7). In this manner, discipline acts as the virtue that leads man to a purified form of physical action. Therefore, as man practices it through action, he is able to more fully detach from his work’s consequences and legitimately fulfill his dharma.
In addition to physical action, discipline extends to the activity of the mind. Krishna acknowledges the steady stream of thoughts that compete for man’s attention. However, he teaches that these distractions must be ignored because they often lead to attachment to action. Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains that the mind is often a wild scene where a person’s perceptions of their external reality challenge their core convictions. If discipline is employed, then these perceptions will be subdued and redirected in a positive manner. Krishna explains the practice of mental discipline by counseling Arjuna that, “When, unvexed by revelation / your higher mind is motionless / and stands fixed in meditation / then you will attain discipline” (2.53). Discipline, for the purpose of gaining wisdom, is practiced by keeping one’s mind in a harmonious state of equilibrium where these perceptions have no effect on mental processes. This discipline is not man’s natural predisposition and thus requires concerted practice. As Krishna states, “…having utterly restrained / the many senses by the mind, / Gradually let him find rest, / his intellect under control, / his mind established in the Self, / not thinking about anything” (6.24-25). He emphasizes yoga as the best form of mental exercise in which man consciously works to focus his thoughts on a single point. By using discipline to train his mind, man draws closer to Krishna and learns to absolve all attachment from his works. Mental discipline complements physical discipline, and both depend upon the other in order for man to advance in his process toward eternal purification.
Discipline of the body and mind yields eternal rewards despite the obstacles that oppose it. The first benefit is the ability to know Krishna more deeply and to establish a stronger bond with him. By learning to exist with a steady mind detached from action, a person shifts the focus of their desires and decisions toward Krishna. This leads to discipline’s second reward: advancement in the process of eternal purification. This process occurs through the cycle of reincarnation where man dies and is reborn until he reaches a state of perfection. Discipline is the key to liberation from this cycle because, as Krishna states, “…having freed oneself from ego, / force, pride, anger, lust and grasping, / serene and without selfishness, / one is fit for the absolute” (18.53). Through a perfected practice of discipline, a person advances toward a state of unchanging existence. This in turn grants them the reward of experiencing Krishna more completely. Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, “Liberation (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation (samsara)…” defines the ultimate goal of existence: to assume an absolute, rather than transient, state of being (Flood, Martin, xviii). This goal is only accomplished through discipline of the mind and body. The two primary rewards of discipline, union with Krishna and absolute existence, form the pinnacle of man’s life. Thus, the value of these rewards merit the effort one must exercise to attain them.
An argument may arise that perfect discipline in unattainable in the context of day-to-day reality. In their occupations and relationships, people face situations that may cause them to feel “…anger, fear, and passions…” (2.56). These emotions are the obstacles that Krishna deems as detrimental to the practice of discipline. Many individuals appear to be trapped in a dilemma: avoid these feelings or fulfill their dharma which may cause these emotions to arise. Because everyone’s dharma differs, not all people are granted the luxury of the yogi lifestyle, one in which duty includes secluded meditation and constant prayer to Krishna. In contrast, a majority of people are called to more common occupations as peasants, warriors or merchants. In these roles, emotions often run high: the peasant feels frustration over his servitude, the warrior experiences the passion of battle, the merchant becomes excited after making a hefty profit. In light of the correlation between these occupations and emotions, the discipline that Krishna commands may seem unrealistic.
However, Krishna refutes this argument by stating that the differing natures of people’s duties are not preventative to the practice of discipline. As he teaches, “By worshiping with one’s own actions, the Origin of all Beings by whom the cosmos is pervaded, perfection is achieved by man” (18.46). He recognizes the differences that arise as certain classes act according to their dharma. Discipline, as he explains, can still be practiced in these situations if a person surrenders his actions as a form of worship. Krishna illustrates this through several examples. In the case of the peasants, he teaches that they may exercise discipline in the midst of their “Plowing, trade, and cattle-herdings…” by releasing their connection to their work and replacing it with a mindset of worship toward him (18.44). This applies to other classes of people, including the warriors who must use their “Valor, majesty, firmness…and lordliness…” to glorify Krishna rather than themselves (18.43). In the midst of action, Krishna commands his followers to work with their minds fixed upon him while absent from attachment to consequences. In this manner, they master perfect discipline and advance toward absolute purification.
Demonstrated throughout the Bhagavad Gita, discipline is a fundamental element of Krishna’s teachings on how his followers must think and act throughout their lives. The practice of this virtue involves both the external action of the body and the inner thought processes of the mind as man accomplishes his dharma. Krishna teaches this through the counsel he offers to Arjuna as he faces his battlefield dilemma. In the midst of a tumultuous world, the obstacles to maintaining discipline are high, including the forces of emotion, passion and tension. Nonetheless, regardless of a person’s position in life, discipline can always be practiced by absolving all attachment to action and using it as a means of glorifying Krishna. Through discipline, man is released from reincarnation and enters into eternal union with Krishna. This virtue leads to the greatest of all rewards. As Krisha teaches, one “whose senses, mind and intellect / are firmly fixed upon release / shed of desire, fear and rage / will soon attain bliss forever” (6.28).
Flood, Gavin, and Charles Martin. “Introduction.” The Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation. Norton Critical Edition. Trans. Gavin Flood and Charles Martin. New York: Norton, 2015. vii-xviii. Print.
The Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation. Norton Critical Edition. Trans. Gavin Flood and Charles Martin. New York: Norton, 2015. Print.
Questions of the Hereafter in Gilgamesh, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Bible
Questions like these that baffle the human mind, and have done so for centuries: what happens after we die? Is there truly life after death? Such riddles can never be known to those who have not crossed over “to the other side”, so to speak, and the only ones that do know the answer can never reveal it. As the saying goes, dead men tell no tales. It is a question central to the identity of every civilization, dating back before the common era. In the ancient epic of Gilgamesh, the afterlife is nothing but darkness and dust. In the Bhagavad-Gita, there is only a cycle of reincarnation that may or may not lead to “enlightenment”. And in the book of Job, there is a belief that God-fearing, righteous people may one day enter paradise.
Gilgamesh was a man scared to death of dying. He felt like this since his beloved friend Enkidu had a vision of the underworld on his deathbed. Enkidu describes it as “the house whence none who enters come forth” (Tablet XII, line 134) and “the road from which there is no way back” (line 135). Both of the descriptions haunt Gilgamesh severely. Furthermore, Enkidu sees “crowns in a heap” (line 142), the crowns of past kings. Not even a royal bloodline can save Gilgamesh from the one certainty in life. Gilgamesh is deeply distressed, and cries out, “Shall I not die too? Am I not like Enkidu?” (Tablet 8, line 3). He begins a frantic search to find a source of immortality, to stay the hand that all man are dealt. He fails…but, in a ironic sense, he also succeeds. No, he does not live on forever, but in a way he does. He lives on through his his accomplishments, such as his wall that be built and his story, which has been passed down through the ages. In the culture of his day, that is the closest anyone could come to being immortal.
Arjuna was a confused man . His everyday quest to fulfill the wishes of the gods and achieve enlightenment was under attack by his morality and opposition to war. He speaks to Krishna and cries out, “I foresee no good resulting from slaughtering my kin in war!” (Chapter 1, stanza 31). He, like many of his day presumably, has no desire to engage in war and conquest because he sees no benefit from killing his kinsmen and countrymen. He dreads the bad karma that is associated with such acts. But Krishna tries to relax him, saying that “Death is assured to all those born, and birth assured to all the dead; you should not mourn what is merely inevitable consequence” (Chapter 2, stanza 27). In essence, death and birth and just two sides of a never ending cycle. Krishna also says to Arjuna “Nor should you tremble to perceive your duty as a warrior” (Chapter 2, stanza 31). It is Arjuna’s “sacred duty” to be a warrior and to kill his enemies, family or not. In effect, life is just one constant reincarnation after another, with “enlightenment” being the only true afterlife. Krishna goes on to say that “When, unvexed by revelation, your higher mind is motionless and stands fixed in meditation, then you will attain discipline” (Chapter 2, stanza 53). In other words, enlightenment is only attainable by those who have learned to act without any feelings. This is the duty of all.
Job was a submissive man, and a righteous one. The writer of Job said that he “was blameless and upright and feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). He was the best example of a “man of God” of his day. Even when God allowed Satan to come and destroy Job’s family, possessions, and health, he did not sin. After his wife told to him to curse God and just die, he replied, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). His whole world revolved around honoring God, whether with having plenty or nothing. Job acted the way he did because of his respect for God and his vision of the afterlife, or heaven. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21). Whats the point of holding on to the things in this life if, in the end, we have to give them up anyway? Only one thing is eternal: God. Job is remembered to this day for realizing that possessions mean nothing without the One who gives them to you. This is the ideal Jewish and Christian way of thinking about life after death.
The three cultures discussed above have three very different views of the afterlife. One was trying to immortalize oneself in actions and monuments, one was about reaching action without feeling and enlightenment, and one was about giving up the things of this world to focus on the God from whom all things come. Maybe we, as humans, can never truly understand the concept of life after death. But, then again, maybe we should be more focused on the things we do in life instead.
Contemplation and Knowledge in The Bhagavad-Gita
“Lord of Discipline” says Arjuna to Krishna in the Tenth Teaching of The Bhagavad-Gita, “how can I know you as I meditate on you?” This is a paradoxical question. It would seem the only way to “know” Krishna would be to “meditate” on him. This is even truer for the reader who, by reading, is mediating on Krishna and who, by meditating, is trying to come to terms with his divinity. Inverting the question makes for a more sensible inquiry, at least on the surface: “Krishna,” says my hypothetical convert, “how could a man come to know you if he does not meditate on you?” Merely by posing his strange question, Arjuna suggests that, indeed, there is some way to find Krishna without meditating on him. And further, that meditating on him is, somehow, an impediment to knowing him.If meditation impedes knowledge, then a profounder paradox is raised for the Bhagavad-Gita as a whole. It becomes impossible to understand the story of Krishna and Arjuna simply by virtue of the fact that one is reading it. The work prohibits a knowledge of the work. Or, if Arjuna’s question is interpreted as meaning how can he know Krishna at the same time as he is meditating on him, and if perhaps his investment in meditation will at some later time yield the divine knowledge he seeks, then at the very least the reader is deemed incapable of understanding Krishna while he is in the process reading.For Arjuna as for the reader, contemplation (or “meditation”) is both necessary and unethical. It is contemplation that allows for an understanding of Krishna. But while one is engaged in contemplating Krishna, one cannot act out one’s dharma, which is defined in the Bhagavad-Gita as to “perform necessary actions.” Therefore contemplation, a form of inaction, precludes one from implementing Krishna’s central teaching. This chicken-and-egg problem runs through the Bhagavad-Gita, and begs the question: What is the value of contemplation? Krishna makes clear that Arjuna must not retreat from battle. But in revealing the infinite glories of his divine nature to Arjuna’s eyes, he rewards the “coward” for his “petty weakness.” He rewards Arjuna for merely contemplating his dharma, and in a sense rewards him for defaulting on it. To use a modern term, the Gita very much “problematizes” contemplation. Asking his question of Krishna, Arjuna addresses him as the “Lord of Discipline.” Arjuna learned the meaning of “discipline” (or yoga) in the Sixth Teaching, in which Krishna said: Know that discipline, Arjuna,Is what men call renunciation;no man is disciplinedwithout renouncing willful intent.A few stanzas later, Arjuna sums up the lesson, saying, “You define this discipline / by equanimity.” Thus when Arjuna asks Krishna, “How can I know you as meditate on you,” he is asking it of one who is the Lord of equanimity himself, the very nexus of renunciation, who fills the void that is left when all has been renounced.”Discipline” has a second meaning. Towards the end of the Second Teaching on “Spiritual Discipline,” Krishna says,Disciplined by understanding,One abandons both good and evil deeds;so arm yourself for discipline-discipline is skill in actions.The idea of “abandon[ing] good and evil deeds,” is the same as the equanimity alluded to above. But the idea of “arm[ing] yourself for discipline” introduces the connection between discipline and action (an action which is, in this case, fundamentally violent: “arm yourself”). “Discipline is skill,” or exactitude, “in actions.”A full definition of discipline encompasses both renunciation (or equanimity) and action. The seeming contradiction between renunciation and action is easily reconciled:Always perform with detachmentany action you must do;performing action with detachmentone achieves supreme good.Understanding “detachment” here as equanimity, the idea of “discipline” becomes clear: it means both the renunciation of the “fruit” of action and the studied practice of performing a necessary action. If Krishna is “Lord of Discipline” it cannot mean merely that he is capable of achieving his own standard. It means, rather, that as god he is the entity to whom “discipline” should be consecrated, like any other sacrifice one makes. As Barbara Stoller puts it in her glossary, discipline is “the yoking of oneself to Krishna’s divine purpose.” Rephrasing Arjuna’s question in light of this definition, it reads something like: “Lord of renunciation and pure action, how can I know you while I am engaged in contemplating you, which shows that I have neither renounced my attachments nor am acting purely?” It is no wonder that Krishna never answers the question; phrased as such it cannot be answered.To further unpack Arjuna’s impossible question requires an examination of “knowing.” Miller defines “knowledge” in such an ambiguous and general way that the concept barely retains any meaning. She writes that it is, “a nonconceptual, spiritual knowledge of transcendental reality.” Her definition even uses the word “knowledge” to define “knowledge,” which makes one wonder what exactly a “nonconceptual spiritual knowledge of transcendental reality,” could possibly refer to, besides itself.In the Fourth Teaching of Miller’s translation, Krishna seems to posit an equally obscure definition, if one chooses to call it a definition at all, of knowledge:Faithful, intent, his sensessubdued, he gains knowledge; gaining knowledge,he soon finds perfect peace.Knowledge is the state one arrives at once one has gained knowledge. Knowledge is initially gained by being “faithful, intent,” and having “senses subdued.” Perfect knowledge is implicitly equated with “perfect peace.” To “know” Krishna is therefore, in essence, to have perfect peace. This is because knowing Krishna would mean that one would necessarily have perfect knowledge, since Krishna is “the source of everything, / everything proceeds from [him].”Arjuna’s question now reads like this: “Lord of pure action, how can I attain perfect peace as I meditate on you?” What Arjuna must mean by “meditate” is to struggle with the questions that Krishna raises. To struggle with such questions means that Arjuna cannot have attained perfect peace, as he is struggling. The answer, then, is a categorical no. Arjuna cannot attain perfect peace while he is struggling with such notions as perfect peace.It may seem as if this is the point with which this paper began. But teasing out the exact meaning of the question’s words serves to raise the issue of the relationship between action and peace, or action and knowledge. This is most clearly the central issue that the author of The Bhagavad-Gita wishes to address. It is the question that Arjuna faces most directly and distinctly. Arjuna is stuck in between two armies, in the midst of a spiritual crisis. Krishna slowly reveals to him the nature of god and truth and duty for the express purpose of motivating Arjuna to fight-for the right reasons. Arjuna must come to “know” those reasons-the truth-in order to “act.” But if one “knows,” it has been shown that one is in a “perfect peace.” If one is in a state of perfect peace, how can one go off and fight a battle? Peace would seem to be opposed to battle. Of course, Krishna dispels with this false dichotomy in Teaching after Teaching, perhaps most eloquently in the Fourth Teaching:A man who sees inaction in actionand action in inaction has understanding among men,disciplined in all action he performs.Arjuna, who eventually sees “action in inaction”-might he, by learning from Krishna, be said to engaged in a sort of inaction of action? Sitting there, against his dharma, defaulting on his most important duty, and listening quietly in awe to the god from whom everything proceeds and through which everything is disposed-this is the epitome of inaction, meditation, contemplation. Yet might this inaction be counted as action, inasmuch as it eventually leads to it?This kind of easy resolution to the question Arjuna poses, that I keep returning to, and that Krishna never answers, is suggested only by what the text seems to want to convey. Certainly it would be convenient if there were an analogy to be drawn between inaction/action and meditation/knowledge. But there seems to be little textual support for the claim. In fact, there is one stanza which directly refutes the easy resolution I just attempted:But men intent on merenounce all actionsand worship me, meditatingwith singular discipline.”Meditating” here, once again, leads to a renunciation of “all actions,” including those actions which are mandated by one’s dharma. Again, the question of whether or not Arjuna can attain the supreme state of being by meditating on Krishna seems resilient to the kind of answer that the text requires in order to justify the text’s own existence.One textual clue, however, does come at the end. Sanjaya, the secondary who theoretically witnessed the events of The Bhagavad-Gita and shares them with the reader, says at the end:Where Krishna is lord of disciplineAnd Arjuna is the archerthere do fortune, victory, abundanceand morality exist, so I think.What is so striking about this closing stanza is the phrase “so I think.” It opens up the possibility that the author of The Bhagavad-Gita did not expect to wholly convert the reader in a single reading, even though Arjuna is converted over its course. It allows for subjective readings of the text, as “I think” implies that people are entitled to disagree. And as each reader has a subjective reading of the text, he is actually incapable of perceiving Krishna as Krishna actually is. Only Arjuna can, because Arjuna could see Krishna. Seeing is, perhaps, more real than meditating.
Actions and Sense of Self
In The Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, a skilled warrior, faces a dilemma in the midst of battle. He ceases to fight and admits that he could not live with himself if winning this battle meant conquering his own family. He turns to his charioteer, Krishna, for advice. Through their dialogue, one learns how the external war Arjuna faces is irrelevant compared to the internal war within himself. The following will argue the validity of Krishna’s advice, and suggest that by following these principles, one can discover a happier and more successful life.
This paper will discuss three key elements of wisdom contained in Krishna’s words. First, I will analyze the idea of detaching oneself from the results of one’s actions and how doing so can help the individual. Next, I will discuss the realization of Self and why this is so crucial for Arjuna. Lastly, this paper will analyze the key role that meditation plays in this process and that although the mind is difficult to tame, it is not only possible, but vital to a life of happiness.
In a fast-paced world, people are often thinking ahead and worrying about what is to come. Decisions and actions, even the smallest of such, have a grand impact on the future. Therefore, it makes sense that so many individuals, from an athlete to a businessperson, cling to the results and possible repercussions of their actions. However, by overwhelming oneself with thoughts of the future, a person only faces detrimental consequences. When Arjuna drops to his knees in the middle of battle unable to accept the action he must take to succeed, Krishna tells him, “Fulfill all your duties, action is better than inaction” (105). The fact in life is that we cannot escape our duties; things must be done in order to survive that one cannot avoid. The key for Arjuna is the he must perform these duties “without selfish attachment to their ‘fruit’, or outcome” (101). In other words, he must be disconnected from his expectations and not be affected by the result, whatever it may be. I admit that expectations are a natural occurrence in the mind. As a golfer, I expect or at least hope to shoot a good score. But oftentimes, I get so worried about what could go wrong that my round becomes a train wreck of angst and uncertainty. Instead of having no expectations for my results and just playing, I get so caught up in anxiety about the result that I feel similar to Arjuna collapsed in the middle of an important event. Just the simple act of worrying about a result can have catastrophic consequences. If an individual can live without a connection to the results of what they do, that individual will feel peace and freedom, embodying the cliché “live in the moment.” This is Krishna’s first advice to Arjuna. He then professes that in order to do so, Arjuna must realize Self. Krishna tells Arjuna that “actions do not cling to your real Self” (113). He tells him that those who have discovered Self “have nothing to gain or lose by any action” (106) and are satisfied in every way. Therefore, Arjuna’s ability to detach himself from actions lies in his ability to discovery his true Self.
Each person is unique and possesses a distinct Self, but when one obtains the knowledge of Self, the results are universal. Those who realize Self “are free, without selfish attachments; their minds are fixed in knowledge” (119). According to Krishna’s advice, detaching oneself from actions and discovering the true Self go hand-in-hand, meaning one cannot exist without the other. If one is detached from actions, then one has found Self; if one has found Self, then one is free from attachment. It is incredible to think that despite the differences between people, every individual is capable of attaining the same peace and satisfaction through the discovery of Self. A person who seeks wisdom above all else will “enter into perfect peace” while “the ignorant…waste their lives” and “will never be happy in this world or any other” (121). According to Krishna, knowledge fuels one’s path toward Self-realization, while the unenlightened remain unhappy and distracted by selfish desires. Krishna reveals to Arjuna that they have all faced many births and rebirths and in realizing this, they are unified in knowledge. He says that by having this knowledge and realizing Self, one has “found the source of joy and fulfillment, they no longer seek happiness from the external world” (106). The source of joy is turned within oneself. Instead of searching for happiness in the material world, one can find happiness beyond original expectations by gaining the knowledge of Self. As humans, we often embody the mantra “find your purpose in life” with the idea that purpose can be found in external things. But according to Krishna, “Only knowledge of the Self…can fulfill the purpose of his life and lead him beyond rebirth” (125). Once again, the answers Arjuna seeks are internal, and once he has the knowledge of this, the external will become obsolete. Now that Arjuna understands the connection between his true Self and detachment from results, the last issue that remains is how does he reach this ultimate goal? Krishna transitions into a discussion of yogis and how “Those who aspire to the state of yoga should seek the Self in inner solitude through meditation” (140). Krishna’s last piece of advice to Arjuna is to seek Self through the practice of meditation.
Krishna emphasizes that meditation is the first step “to climb the mountain of spiritual awareness” (139). He gives Arjuna basic guidance, such as where to do it and how to begin. He says, “Make your mind one-pointed in meditation, and your heart will be purified” (141). Meditation holds the key to finding fulfillment through internal peace. In the modern world, success, fulfillment, and happiness are sought through material things. These things lose novelty, expire, and will never create true peace within ourselves. Meditation is constant and unchanging, and gives people the ability to find purpose and contentment through practice. A form of meditation that has been gaining popularity over the years is Transcendental Meditation (TM). Krishna tells Arjuna that “Wherever the mind wanders…lead it within” (142) which is a basic principle of TM. This type of meditation is strikingly similar to the meditation that Krishna encourages. The benefits include productivity, clarity, health improvements, and a general feeling of peace and control over one’s life. Krishna admits that “the mind is restless and difficult to control. But it can be conquered” (144). Anyone who meditates can reach Samadhi, which is when the “sensory and emotional tides have ceased to flow” (126). It is a feeling of stillness within the mind, where one is restful, yet alert, and the mind is at peace. After learning TM this past summer, I can confidently say that this feeling is unlike anything else. No material thing can replicate it, and I can only attain this sense of freedom and fulfillment by turning my mind inward through the practice of meditation.
Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita outlines principles for a happier life. By detaching oneself from the results of actions, one becomes free and no longer feels tied to the external world. In doing this, one realizes the true Self and how it allows for selfless service and overall purpose in life. In order to be successful in these two things, meditation must be practiced. It seems complicated, but is actually very simple. Through meditation, an individual discovers realms of life they never imagined. A world where happiness is obtained through internal realization is a world freed from greed and material attachment. Arjuna is just a metaphor for any individual feeling overwhelmed by attachment. The message is that any person can discover Self and become detached. Doing so is not only suggested, but crucial to a fulfilled life.
Did Arjuna Make the Right Decision?
Civil War. There are few things in life that can better quantify as morally gray. In these situations, difficult decisions must be made, and principles are put to the test. Is it truly right to undergo such a divisive and consequential action for the sake of an ideal? This is the dilemma Arjuna faces in the classic historical text The Bhagavad Gita. Guided into a way of living that promises to ultimately lead to salvation, Arjuna debates the course of action he is about to undergo with the Hindu god Krishna. What is ultimately meant to be an inspiring and enriching religious ideal turns out to be a very tailor-made and contextually specific argument, which is not without its flaws. Whether Arjuna ultimately makes the right decision by listening to Krishna and choosing to fight the war with his family is subjective, but the arguments presented within the text reveal several implications that call for further analysis.
The first conflict of ideals between Arjuna and Krishna is that of Arjuna’s conscience getting in the way of his war with the family. Upon seeing the full realization that his enemy was family, Arjuna is said to be overcome with compassion and physically withers in response to this realization (Bhagavad Gita 1: 27-30). A real life parallel can be drawn from this in the form of military propaganda, as successful reactions to warfare come from the process of dehumanizing the enemy. This has been made apparent by the drastic differences in United States reaction to World War II vs the Vietnam War.
In World War II, we were fighting beings that were made out to be these inhuman manifestations of evil ideals; not people, but rather nazi soldiers (American Historical Association). This war received widespread support from a heavily nationalistic nation to such an extent that the economy grew like never before in its aftermath due to the many sacrifices the American people had made in the name of the military. The Vietnam War, however fared an opposite reaction, as the success of the war was largely put at risk by the opposition the American people had to the conflict. Being one of the first media documented clashes to reach public attention, the American citizens saw the conflict as humans fighting humans, and became much more sensitive to the consequences of the war. This led to an opposition to the war, which put in jeopardy its very success in much the same way as Arjuna’s opposition jeopardized his own success (Peters) (History.com).
This is actually one of the counterarguments that Krishna makes to convince Arjuna that fighting is the right decision. He makes an appeal to Arjuna’s sense of honor, attempting to rally his spirits by dissuading his sudden onset of weakness (Bhagavad Gita 2:33-37). He pulls Arjuna’s reputation into play, making very surface-level arguments such as the stain Arjuna’s decisions will bring on his legacy. Arjuna counters this argument with the assertion that no good can come from killing his own kinsmen (Sawyer). This calls to attention the true moral grayness of the situation, as the war seems to offer only glory as a benefit with many consequences accompanying both decisions.
The true question is whether the damage he causes with the intent of war outweighs the lives he spares with the renunciation of the battle. If legacy is truly as important to one’s salvation as Krishna would have us believe, then the definition of what constitutes a legacy becomes very important. After a person dies, then what remains of them is memories and stories of their accomplishments, but what of the deeds that go unheralded? Would the lives of the people spared by the prevention of this war be a part of Arjuna’s legacy as well, despite his condemnation for it? Furthermore, would it not be more noble to sacrifice his own integrity in the minds of others in order to prevent the worse outcome? Krishna argues that it isn’t.
Krishna further argues that Arjuna should not allow himself to be so defeated by the idea of killing his own family due to the nature of the immortal soul, and the fact that he’ll be sending them down the reincarnation cycle as opposed to actually ending their existence (Bhagavad Gita 2:20-31). While there is some merit to this argument, the implications far outweigh the benefits of it, as it completely devalues the physical body. With the logical thought progression that accompanies the thought that the soul cannot be killed, making the fate of the body inconsequential, the conclusion is a justification for avaricious motives. Murder no longer has a relative meaning because the person’s essence cannot actually die. Gluttony and sloth can proliferate because what happens to the body doesn’t affect the soul, and many other sinful acts become very easy to justify through that lens. Granted, this is not the point Krishna was attempting to make, but it’s a logical conclusion that can be drawn via implication.
The infallible argument of the text however is Krishna’s main and overpowering statement that fighting is Arjuna’s duty (Bhagavad Gita 2:31-33). What Krishna goes on to expand upon throughout the entirety of the text is the principle of devotion to an ideal and the fulfillment of duty. Specifically, Krishna creates the ideal that: when faced with a situation where there is no right answer, the only choice you can make is one guided by good intentions. If this decision is made based on a foundation of devotion to the ideals of Krishna and chosen for the right reason, then one is exempt from the bad karma that would otherwise accompany that decision (Sawyer). This argument is infallible from a religious standpoint, because it is based on the assumption of an all powerful and infallible god guiding you.
When this assumption is in place, there is no possible way of countering this argument. However, if the assumption is removed, then two problems arise with the claim. The first is that it essentially becomes an argument of “because I said so,” which removes the aspect of choice from the equation at all. It becomes a submission to an authority figure as opposed to a moral decision, which again is not an issue assuming the authority figure is an omnipotent and incorruptible force of pure goodness. The other issue with this argument is that it can again be used as a justification to invoke sin in the name of righteousness. While the argument does make logical sense as a guide to follow in crisis, the basic principle stands as a matter of intent. “If you do the wrong thing with the right intentions, you’ll be exempt from bad karma” (Sawyer). However, if you do the wrong thing with the right intention, you still do the wrong thing.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux expressed an ideal that would conflict with that principle of the Gita and evolve into the popular phrase “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” which expresses that bad decisions are rarely made with the consequences being intentional (Johnson). However, many atrocious acts have been committed with good intentions at heart. The Spanish Inquisition was meant to spread the good word of Catholicism, and ended up as one of the most brutal and torturous moments in history. The Indian Relocation Act was meant to clear room for incoming settlers and provide a comfortable location for the Native Americans to move to, but ultimately spawned the Trail of Tears. Modern day terrorism attacks in the form of jihadism are largely based on this same ideal, and the attacks have a “good intent” behind them: damage to regimes that conflict with their religious beliefs. This being said, religion is perhaps the strongest destructive tool in the world, by the sheer fact that people are easiest to manipulate when they think they’re doing the right thing. This is the very reason why this argument is so dangerous and why it is so vital that it be made by an infallible god.
Taken from the proper perspective, the arguments of the Bhagavad Gita are a vital part of the modern Hindu religion, and can be a very strong force of good. The arguments however can very easily become twisted due to the implications they raise in the more skeptical modern day society. While very thought provoking and powerful, the arguments have a larger sphere of influence in the day and age the text was written, and over time, lose some relevance due to the shift in our cultural perspectives. Whether Arjuna ultimately made the right decision is still subjective, since Krishna’s attempt to persuade him to fight is based on a series of arguments with clear and exposed weaknesses. One thing is certain, however. In the eyes of Krishna, Arjuna made the right decision, and that decision will be the source of further discussion and debate for many years to come.
Peters, Brad. “Vietnam War.” AP US History. Martin Luther King High School, Riverside. 4 Mar. 2015. Lecture. Taken from notes on a lecture given in my history class in high school on the background, context, and reaction to the Vietnam War
Prabhupāda, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Bhagavad-gītā as It Is. New York: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1972. Print. The copy of The Bhagavad Gita used “The Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions.” The Samuel Johnson Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2015. Origin to the Quote: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”
Sawyer, Dane. “Understanding the Bhagavad Gita.” Global Ideas. University of La Verne, La Verne. 9 Sept. 2015. Lecture. “Vietnam War Protests.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2015. Used as background research on the reaction to Vietnam
“War Propaganda.” American Historical Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2015. History of wartime propaganda