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Sanjaya said: To him who was thus overwhelmed with pity and grief and whose eyes were filled with tears, Krishna spoke these words. - — BG 2.1
Shri Bhagavan Said: “Why this weakness, Arjuna, at a time of crisis, this shameful cowardice unworthy of noble minds? This unmanliness is beneath you and it does not lead to heaven. Do not give in to it, Arjuna. Shake off your weakness now and stand up like a man, O Parantapa ” — BG 2.2-3
The second chapter of the Gita begins with Sanjaya continuing his report to Dhritarashtra about what happened in the battlefield. He tells the blind king what Krishna told Arjuna who was thus overwhelmed with pity and grief and whose eyes were tear-filled. We see here that Krishna does not empathize with his friend at all. Instead, what he does is question Arjuna’s behaviour and attack him with words as sharp as arrows. One of the words Krishna uses here to describe Arjuna’s behaviour is klaibya, which literally translates eunuch-like, which in the Mahabharata world of warriors and heroes was a great insult.
Life is about facing challenges – not about escaping them, avoiding them, hiding from them, running away from them. Life’s challenges are opportunities we get to discover new aspects of ourselves, new strengths within us, new possibilities; to plunge into greater depths of our being and thus soar into newer heights. Even life’s jolts are. They are exactly what you need to grow at the moment – to outgrow your present limitations, to come out of your comfort zones and to discover a greater you.
Each fresh challenge is a new gift to you from life. And these are born as much from your personal needs as from the needs of the world. That you meet them head on is as much the need of the world as it is yours. They are produced by a collusion of samashti karma and vyashti karma, said the wisdom of India – of the karma of the totality and our individual karma.
The Arjuna way so far has been to face them, that is what he has done all his life, that is what made him the great hero that he is. He is not known to run away from challenges. That is what he did as a student of Drona. That is what he did when he went out on a conquest of the directions on his brother’s behalf, what he did when he participated dressed as a brahmana in Draupadi’s swayamvara and won her where everyone else had failed, what he did when the entire assembly of kings pounced upon him when they saw a brahmana had won Draupadi and not one their own men. Aided by his brother Bhima with a tree trunk in his hand, he stood there rock steady with his bow in hand, his arrows spitting the fire of his fury speeding from his bow not letting Duryodhana, Karna, or anyone else come near him when they wanted to kill him for snatching Draupadi away from him. That is what he did when life called him to live as a eunuch in the Virata palace, teaching young Uttara dance.
That has been the Arjuna way and that is exactly the Krishna way too. But for the first time Arjuna is running away from a challenge – the biggest challenge of his life. But his friend Krishna wouldn’t let him to – after all, what else are friends for? And that too a friend like Krishna who says such is his friendship with Arjuna that for his sake he would pull out his very flesh and give it away if necessary.
Krishna now wants Arjuna to fight – not because Krishna is a war monger. Krishna is not. True Krishna has fought numerous wars in his life, but war has always been the last option for him. When conflicts arose, he would try sama, dana and bheda and only if none of those worked would he reluctantly chose danda – the way of force. He has done everything possible to avoid the war. Not only as a human being but also as an incarnation, as he himself explains to Rishi Uttanka when the sage wanted to curse him for failing to stop the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
Krishna is definitely not a war monger, but if there is no other way out, then he would fight. And he wants Arjuna to do the same. Particularly because Arjuna is a kshatriya and it is the duty of a kshatriya to protect dharma at any cost, sacrificing even his life if necessary and, Krishna would say, sacrificing what is dearer to men of honour than life itself – values, ethical principles, everything, for there is nothing more valuable than dharma.
India worshipped ahimsa. Indian mantras and Indian prayers ended invoking peace: Om shantih shantih shantih! But when there was a clash between ahimsa and the common good, India chose the common good, loka-sangraha. Ahimsa is without a doubt great, but if ahimsa stood in the way of loka-sangraha, the good of the world, then ahimsa has to be sacrificed, albeit reluctantly. If except through a war there was no way of creating or sustaining a society in which people could live a life of daivi sampada and not by asuri sampada, which destroyed everyone, the ones who practices it and the ones on whom it is practiced, then that war had to be fought, that war was a dharma yuddha, a war for dharma, said India.
And it is that war from which Arjuna is now turning away, saying it is himsa, violence and as his friend, as a man committed to sustaining dharma, as an incarnation of the divine for the specific purpose of sustaining dharma and for destroying adharma, Krishna is not going to let him to. Krishna needs Arjuna fighting this war for the good of the world.
That is the Indian way. We see this spirit of battle against adharma in the Vedic Indra. All our goddesses, whether it is Durga, Kali, Lalita Parameshwari, all fight battles to destroy adharma. Shiva and Vishnu do that. In some lesser known stories Sita does it, as when she kills Sahasramukha Ravana.
So Krishna lashes out at Arjuna calling his feelings kashmalam, a word that translates into English as weakness, sin, disgracefulness, faintheartedness and so on. That is a word that has nothing positive about it. Its associations are all with tamas, not with rajas or sattva. And kindness is sattvic, compassion is sattvic, love for others is sattvic, sacrificing one’s self-interests is sattvic, living for others is sattvic, renunciation is sattvic. So when Krishna calls Arjuna’s feelings kashmalam, what he means is that it is not kindness that he feels, not compassion, not love, not renunciation or any of the other feelings that are born either of sattva or even of rajas.
Sanjaya used the word kripa for what Arjuna feels – kripayaa parayaa aavishtah, overcome by supreme compassion. Kripa means compassion and is a beautiful word. But Krishna in his higher wisdom does not see what Arjuna feels as kripa; for him it is kashmalam. He also calls Arjuna’s feelings as anaryajushtam – not practiced by noble people.
Commentator Madhusudana Saraswati explains Krishna’s question here: Is this kashmalam of yours for the sake of moksha, for the sake of heaven, or for the sake of keerti, fame? He then points out that Krishna says in the next half of the verse that none of these three could be attained through his disgraceful behaviour. The commentator takes the word arya to mean those who work for moksha.
Krishna tells Arjuna here that this is the worst time to feel something like what he is feeling now – because he is in a crisis and crises are handled not through debilitating helplessness, not by running away from them, not by closing your eyes to them, not by turning your back to them. In a great crisis you need to have all your energies at your command, all your resources. Winners are charged by crises, not crippled or debilitated. Bending your knees before overpowering situations is not the way of heroes. And Arjuna is a hero – explaining this verse, traditional commentator Ananda Giri calls Arjuna here kshatriya-pravara, an outstanding kshatriya. Such a kshatriya has no business to collapse in the war chariot.
Not content with what he has said, Krishna says further: This unmanliness is beneath you and it does not lead to heaven. Do not give in to it, Arjuna. Shake off your weakness and stand up like a man, O Parantapa ”
A parantapa is one who scorches his enemies.
Krishna’s words paint arjuna’s feeling in just one colour – black. It is not that Krishna does not see anything positive in what Arjuna feels But he knows this is no time for softness, for misplaced kindness and compassion.
Krishna not only wants Arjuna to fight the war for the good of the society, but he also wants Arjuna to grow spiritually through that fight, awaken to the higher realities of life. It is a dual journey Krishna has in mind – an outer journey and an inner journey, both undertaken simultaneously. It is the last rite of passage for man – much more important than the rites of passage many cultures have as a boy or girls enters the adult world. This is the rite of passage into the spiritual world and Krishna does not want Arjuna to run away from it
The spiritual journey Krishna has in mind is a journey that has been waiting for all of us through endless lifetimes. But we have been avoiding it under one pretext or the other, always for the best of reasons.
A Tibetan story tells that the lama of the north received a desperate call from the lama of the south asking for a monk to be sent to him. He needed a holy and learned monk to initiate young lamas and to teach them. The lama of the north happily complied but what surprised everyone was that instead of one he sent five lamas. When he was asked why, he said if even one lama reached the south, he would be happy.
After a few days journey the group was camping in a village when they told the lamas there was no priest in their temple and they needed a learned lama who would perform the rituals and also teach them. “Our village is rich,” added the people, “and we can look after the lama well.” One of the lamas felt as a Buddhist he can’t say no to that request, so he stayed back when the other four lamas left.
A few days journey further away, they were passing through a small kingdom when the king requested one of the handsome young lamas to marry his daughter and settle down with him, adding that when he died, the kingdom would be his. The princess was beautiful, the kingdom affluent. The young lama felt this would be a good opportunity to spread Buddhism – his influence would be great as the husband of the princess and in future as the king. He stayed back in the kingdom.
In a few days time the other lamas came across in a scenic village a pretty girl living alone in her house. She told them her parents had died recently, she was left alone now and found life tough with all her yaks and sheep to look after and the vast fields to care for. One of the monks felt great compassion for the girl – she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen and his compassion for her overflowed. “There is no greater Buddhism than love and compassion,” he told his friends piously as he stood by the girl and waved them away on their journey.
A few days later the remaining two lamas passed through another well to do village which was once Buddhist but had recently converted en masse to another religion. One of the two lamas now remaining felt he should stay back in the village and convert the people back to the Buddha’s way, that would be his best offering at his feet of the Compassionate One.
Eventually the lone lama remaining reached the lama of the south, revealing the true meaning of the words of the lama of the north.
That is how we are too. It is this journey that we are born for, that has been calling us for ages, though lifetime after lifetime. Krishna says in the Gita: bahoonaam janmanaam ante jnaanavaan maam prapadyate – it is only at the end of innumerable lifetimes that a wise man surrenders to me. Once after countless lifetimes we begin this search and even after that we fall on the wayside again and again.
In Krishna we have a guru unlike any known guru. He says we do not have to do anything different, but only do whatever we are doing differently. Krishna calls it karma yoga – transforming our karma itself into our yoga, whatever that karma is. The way countless rajarshis of this land has reached the supreme by fulfilling their karma with total dedication, the way even a butcher called Dharma Vyadha reached that goal by complete commitment. Karmanaiva hi samsiddhim aasthitaah janakaadayah, says Krishna in the Gita: it is through karma alone that people like King Janaka reached the supreme goal. — [BG 3.20]
That is not to say other paths do not lead to this goal. But our present karma itself can become a powerful path, perhaps the most appropriate path for us.
To achieve material goals, we may have to change our circumstances. But to achieve the spiritual goal we don’t have to change anything at all, just go wherever life takes us, do what life asks us to do. In fact, any attempt to change things will take us away from our path and its goal. Because, at our level, all attempts to change comes from the ego and when we try to do that, we are feeding our ego. That is why Krishna makes that revolutionary statement in the Gita: na hi a-sannyasta-sankalpo yogi bhavati kaschana – no one who has not given up his sankalpas will ever become a yogi.
Sankalpas are goals we set for ourselves, destinations we chart out for ourselves, decisions we make for ourselves. When we say I will do this, I will not do that, we are making sankalpas. All such decisions are of the egos and not of existence. This is true even when the sankalpas are for the good of the world – many of which, despite the good it does to the world, are ego trips, unless of course that call comes from a deeper source from within you. The right way, true spirituality, is to wait for the call of the divine, to make oneself just a nimitta – an instrument, a tool, a vehicle – for blessings to flow through you to the world. Nimitta-maatram bhava savyasaachin, Krishna tells Arjuna. — [BG 11.33]. Then It is no more an ego trip but a spiritual journey.
The two are very different.
What we call mukti is the cessation of the ego, of existence as separate from the totality, the merger of the individual with the whole, like rivers ceasing to be rivers and merging with the ocean to become one with it. Then one can no more say I am the Ganga or the Yamuna, or the Don or the Danube, all we can say is I am the ocean.
That journey into union with the totality, the losing of our individuality, is the true goal of spirituality. Being empty of oneself, that is what spirituality means. Just floating with life is one of the paths to reach there.
A true spiritual sadhaka is a parivrajaka, a white cloud that has no destination of its own but goes where the wind takes it. So long as we have our own destinations, we have not given up our sankalpas and hence we cannot be yogis, as Krishna says.
An incredibly beautiful Taoist story by Chuang Tzu tells it all:
The prince discovered, when he returned from the top of the mountain, that he had mislaid the Pearl of Great Price up on the mountain. He sent his generals and their armies to search for it, but they could not find it. He employed Huang-Ti, the vehement debater, to find the Pearl; but Huang-Ti was unable to find it. He sent his skilled gardeners and his artisans to find it, but they, too, came home empty handed.
Finally, in despair, having tried everyone else, he sent Purposeless to the mountain, and Purposeless found the pearl immediately.
"How odd it is", mused the Prince, "that it was Purposeless who found it!"
To be purposeless is to have no individual purposes, no personal choices, just letting go of oneself, surrendering oneself to the goal of existence, living without resisting anything, floating with life. In some versions of the story, instead of purposelessness, the word used is Nothingness – that is, egolessness, being empty of oneself, sankalpa-lessness, which you become after renouncing sankalpas, as Krishna asks us to do if we want to become yogis.
Mojud was a young man who worked in the office of weights and measures. One day Khidr, the hidden guide of the Sufis, appeared before him and asked him to leave what he was doing and meet him by the river three days later.
That single sentence changed everything. His life was no more what it was, his future as a possible senior officer of weights and measures was gone, his past was gone, everything gone, washed away by those words, as the rain washes the earth clean.
When he met Khidr on by the river, he told Mojud to tear off all his clothes and jump into the water. Without a word Mojud obeyed his master, though he did not know swimming. Sinking and floating, gulping down water, Mojud was carried downstream until he was saved by a fisherman. “What a fool you are! What were you trying to do?” he asked. Moujud’s answer was he did not know. The Fisherman invited him to help him in his work and gave him the spare bed in his hut.
Years later, one night as Mojud was sleeping Khidr appeared again and commanded him to get up and leave the hut, which he instantly obeyed. He walked on and eventually reached a road where he met a small farmer. Invited by the farmer, Mojud starts working for him. Two years pass, Mojud learning about farming and little else.
Khidr now appears again and orders him to go to Mosul and there, with the money earned by working for the farmer, start a business, dealing in skins. After he trades in skin for three years Khidr appears again. Mojud is by now fairly rich and was planning to buy a house. But Khidr asks him to give all his money to him and then walk to Samarkand and work for a grocer there.
Mojud becomes a grocer’s assistant for many years. It was in those days that people started noticing strange incidents happening around him. Whoever went near him felt great peace. The sick became healed, the blind started seeing and the deaf started hearing. Multitudes thronged to him to be healed.
The inevitable happened then. Religious scholars arrived and questioned him. How was he performing the miracles? What spirituality had he practiced? Under whom had he studied? What was he before he became what he is now?
And Mojud told them he hadn’t practiced any sadhana, it is difficult to say under whom he studied. To begin with he was an officer of weights and measures in a distant city. They asked him if he gave up that job to practice self-mortification, and he said no, he just gave it up. They asked him what else he had done if not self-mortification and he said he became a fisherman, then a farmer’s assistant, then a skin merchant and, as they knew, a servant of the grocer for the last many years.
Of course, they were completely puzzled and couldn’t accept what he said. Each of the scholars made up stories about him in his own way, speaking of the terrible asceticism he had performed, the temptations he had faced, the miracles that had happened. They told of how he had flown through the air, how the angels had appeared before him and begged him to accept boons and how he had refused. Mojud said nothing. He continued living the way he has been living, serving the grocer in spite of his saying no, his life going on as it had done all these years and his presence healing people.
Moujud means presence. Just a presence. Presence without an ego.
Acceptance is the highest spirituality. That is what Arjuna is refusing to do and that is what Krishna wants him to do – accept what life has brought him as its gift at the moment, the war with all its dreadful horrors, along with the responsibility for the death of his grandsire and guru and other near and dear ones. Play his role in the cosmic drama, play his part in the cosmic plot that has been handed over to him, unresisting, surrendering, accepting – and doing all that not grumblingly, but joyously, grateful for the grace that has been showered on him. Krishna does not forget to remind his friend: sukhinah kshatriyaah partha labhante yuddham eedrsham – happy are the kshatriyas who get this kind of war. — [BG 2.32]
It is grace! Divine grace!
How do we apply this in the corporate world and in our daily lives? Exactly as Mojud does. By going where you are taken, by working with total commitment in each place, by accepting the challenges that come to you, by not running away from them, by not clinging to anything. Fearlessly, avoiding the traps the ego lays for you, by remaining rooted in daivi sampada such as fearlessness, non-violence and truthfulness, without covetousness, with compassion for all beings, dealing with everyone gently, our anger mastered, envy and jealousy mastered, our greed mastered, not letting our lusts enslave us. And remembering to give all of ourselves and a little more to what we are doing at the moment and the person we are with.
Exactly as Arjuna does under the divine guidance of Yogeshwara Krishna.
Benefitting all as the rain cloud benefits all.
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