The Influence Of Krishna On Arjuna In The Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita is undoubtedly a war epic. Throughout the epic, Krishna is portrayed as a God giving counsel to Arjuna at the time of war appearing in human form as his charioteer. The question that arises now is: was the counsel provided by Krishna beneficial or detrimental to Arjuna and his royalty? I will argue that Krishna was actually a negative influence on Arjuna and made him do things his moral compass wouldn’t allow him to do. Krishna gave teachings of moral duty, re-centering oneself through ‘spiritual discipline’, the importance of action, and utmost devotion towards him after intimidating him by revealing his true form.
When Arjuna lamented to Krishna saying, “I see omens of chaos, Krishna; I see no good in killing my kinsmen in battle” (Bhagavad Gita, 27). He also goes on to say he does not seek victory nor royalty. He is a man with a pure heart, he cannot stand bloodshed against his own kin. Krishna’s immediate response to this was calling him a coward. He also said this cowardice “is ignoble, shameful, and foreign to the ways of heaven.” This rapid negative response is odd, if not suspicious, to say the least. Instead of empathizing with him, or trying to understand his concern, Krishna dove directly into insulting Arjuna to change his mind, reminding him of his moral duty being born in the warrior caste. Krishna goes into a long monologue of how our soul is immortal and it cannot be burdened by worry and grieving others, which is inhumane. Krishna ends saying, “If you fail to wage this war of sacred duty, you will abandon your own duty and fame only to gain evil.” This quote screams manipulation. Krishna brainwashes Arjuna into thinking that destiny forces him to fight and that there is no other option. There is no bigger taunt than that of self-defamation and dishonor.
Krishna then goes on to talk more about the idea of ‘spiritual discipline’. He talks about being focused on the action and not the fruits of action (Gita, 38). However, context is necessary. Here, action is war, and you cannot focus on war without focusing on the prospect of winning the war. Thus, it is impossible to not focus on the fruits of action in this circumstance. Krishna’s advice often sounds hollow without much depth into real world implications. He delves into several abstract ideas, like the immortality of the soul and how all of us have existed for eternity, but they do not tie into the situation they are in, making most of them sound like the grandiose words of religious priests: lovely to listen to, but very hard to comprehend and implement. Krishna describes the person whose insight and thought are sure to be like someone who has withdrawn from all worldly desires and feelings. Let’s face it, this is close to being physically impossible. And when you tie this in to war, you cannot fight in a war because you are indifferent, but because you dislike the enemy. Thus, if you try to follow Krishna’s command to fight, you cannot attain the ultimate level of spirituality. I am sure that a highly spiritual person does not go about fighting wars to attain inner peace. This is a contradiction at its finest.
In the third teaching of the Gita, Arjuna tries to see through the facade and asks Krishna why he is urging him to this horrible act with confusing words. Krishna responds that “a man cannot escape the force of action by abstaining from actions; he does not attain success just by renunciation.” Once again, action without emotion or motive is impossible. This goes against the second teaching of Krishna where he recommends to not focus on outcomes of action. If we don’t know why we are doing something, why would we do it? Krishna urges Arjuna to battle by telling him to surrender all actions to Krishna and fix his reason to his soul, without hope or possession and fight the war! This is again a form of brainwashing where he is trying to distance Arjuna from his own conscience and blindingly fight the war. This could be a recipe for disaster, this is the same mantra that radical terrorists use in the modern age where they distance a person from their own conscience to blindingly follow a cause.
Near the middle of the epic, Krishna reveals his true divine form when prompted by Arjuna, this was a magnanimous depiction and filled Arjuna with awe and devotion. This is where Arjuna is blinded by Krishna, the ‘god of all gods’. He then says, “I bow to you, I prostrate my body, I beg you to be gracious, Worshipful Lord” (Gita, 106). Arjuna is now a devout devotee of Krishna, willing to blindly follow whatever he wishes. Krishna says a weird dialogue while revealing his true form, “Therefore, arise and win glory! Conquer your foes and fulfill your kingship! They are already killed by me. Be just my instrument, the archer at my side!” (Gita, 103). Two points of interest here. First, if all the enemies are already ordered to be killed by Krishna, why does Arjuna have to be there in the first place, he does not have to go through the pain of killing his brethren. Second, Krishna refers to Arjuna as his instrument, which pretty much summarizes my arguments: Krishna is using Arjuna as a tool, an accessory to his grand plans, nothing more. And it works, Arjuna swears his allegiance to Krishna. Krishna then goes on to give a monologue on how he guides those devoted to him and this guidance is nothing but the same teachings he gave at the beginning of the epic: withdrawal of one’s self from emotion and motive, to try to attain spiritual immortality. How this immortality is obtained by killing other mortals is yet to be seen.
In conclusion, I would argue that Krishna is the anti-hero of the epic, similar to Deadpool in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just like how Deadpool breaks the fourth wall to let the audience know his distorted thoughts and motive, Krishna utilizes multiple manipulative tactics, from mockery, to grandiose words on spirituality, to outright sparking of fear in order to ensure devotion to him and him alone. Thus, I would conclude that Krishna did not give good counsel to Arjuna for Arjuna’s sake/best interests but only did so out of selfishness: so that the greatest warrior will become his devotee and blindly follow his commands.
- The Bhagavad Gita. Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, Bantam Classic, 2004.
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