An excerpt from the recent book World Order by Henry Kissinger, now 91, appeared in the Times of India Edit Page. The author, a former United States Secretary of State, writes that according to the Bhagavad Gita and the Arthashastra, it is acceptable to kill one’s enemies, ignore the morality issues.
Citing a dialogue from the first two chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu holy book, in which Arjuna asks Lord Krishna why he (Arjuna) should kill his relations, the diplomat pens:
This is the wrong question, Krishna rejoins. Because, life is eternal and cyclical and the essence of the universe is indestructible. Redemption will come through the fulfillment of a pre-assigned duty, paired with a recognition that its outward manifestations are illusory because “the impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal.” Arjuna, a warrior, has been presented with a war he did not seek. He should accept the circumstances with equanimity and fulfill his role with honor, and must strive to kill and prevail and “should not grieve.”
Kissinger is not alone in arguing that the Gita calls for and justifies a war against one’s enemies. However, Gandhiji had a doable answer for such individuals as Kissinger: Practice, not preach, the Gita truthfully in your day to day life, and see if you find killing or injuring a fellow human being congruous with its teachings. In many verses, the scripture actually instructs readers not to harm others because the same lord resides in every creature:
That one I love who is incapable of ill will, who is friendly and compassionate . . . who looks upon friend and foe with equal regard. (12:13, 18).
Seeing the same Lord everywhere, he does not harm himself or others. Thus he attains the supreme goal. (13:28).
Krishna suggests that Arjuna slay something else:
Fight with all your strength, Arjuna! Controlling your senses, conquer your enemies, the destroyer of knowledge and realization. (3:41).
Use your mighty arms to slay the fierce enemy that is selfish desire. (3:43).
Author Eknath Easwaran, who translated the slokas (verses) shown above, writes in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita:
It was Vyasa’s genius to take the whole great Mahabharata epic and see it as metaphor for the perennial war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness in every human heart…Arjuna becomes Everyman…[and] Krishna is not some external being, human or superhuman, but the spark of divinity that lies at the core of the human personality.
Turning to the Arthashastra, a manual for practicing the statecraft, scholars explain that it was written in Sanskrit based on the ideas of Kautilya, who helped bring about the rise of the Maurya dynasty. The manual went through many revisions from the first to fourth centuries BC.
The Secretary writes, “For Kautilya, the power was the dominant reality. Geography, finance, military strength, diplomacy, espionage…needed to be shaped as a unit by a wise king to strengthen and expand his realm…[A]ny ruler whose power grew significantly would eventually find that it was in his interest to subvert his neighbor’s realm. This was an inherent dynamic of self-preservation to which morality was irrelevant.”
Furthermore, according to Kissinger, Cardinal Richelieu, France’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1616 (roughly 2000 years after the Arthashastra) argued that “the state is a fragile organization, and the statesman does not have the moral right to risk its survival on ethical restraint.”
Is morality irrelevant when a nation’s survival is at stake? Ask Gandhji. How can a person abandon his moral values to free or protect his nation when he comes to power? It sounds like you have to be a policeman as well as a thief, honest as well as dishonest.
Gandhiji was a highly moral man and did not forsake his principles. He believed it was wrong for humans to enslave others. He appealed to the British to listen to their conscience and follow the teachings of their Bible so as not to be hypocrites. It took him 32 years to bring sense to the British, who freed India in 1947 after nearly 200 years of rule.
Gandhiji proved morality relevant and Britain’s then-military power irrelevant.