Continued from Previous Page
The second chapter of the Gita is frequently considered to be the heart of its teachings and the rest of Krishna’s song as his elaborations based on Arjuna’s further questions. Which is not to say that the rest of the Gita does not teach us anything new – every verse of the Gita has something precious to teach us. However, this scripture born in the battlefield that teaches us how to live life fully and find lasting peace and joy also follows the Upanishadic tradition of giving the highest teachings at the beginning and then slowly coming down to lower levels of wisdom. For that reason a thorough in-depth understanding of the second chapter gives us clear insights into the core wisdom of the Gita.
The chapter begins with Krishna addressing Arjuna who has collapsed into the chariot, dropping his bow and arrows and saying that he shall not fight because he does not want the kingdom and pleasures stained by the blood of one’s own people. Sanjaya, who narrates the Gita to Dhritarashtra, describes Arjuna here as a person overcome by compassion, his eyes filled with tears, his heart full of grief. However, that is not how Krishna sees Arjuna as he begins talking to him. What Sanjaya calls kripa and vishada, compassion and grief, are to Krishna kashmalam – unmanliness, cowardice, shameful weakness. Krishna also calls Arjuna’s feelings as disgraceful, unfit for noble people and not leading to glory or happiness.
One of the words Krishna uses to describe Arjuna’s behaviour here is klaibya. By using that word, Krishna is calling Arjuna an eunuch. The word of course is not used in its biological sense but in its cultural sense. In the culture of the Mahabharata, eunuch is perhaps the most hurting word that Krishna could use for Arjuna and it is equivalent to calling him a coward, a weakling, a sissy as modern youngsters would say.
Krishna’s words here tell us that the world is not for the weak. Veerabhogyaa vasundharaa, India has always said: the earth is to be enjoyed by the brave. India has also said daivam kleebaa upaasate – only cowards worship destiny.
And just as the earth is for the brave, success in the world is for the brave and name, fame, glory and pleasures are only for the brave, spirituality too is only for the brave. The Upanishads make this very clear when they declare with absolute clarity na ayam aatmaa balaheenena labhyah: this self is not to be won by the weak. The stress on mental strength and fearlessness is so great in the Indian spiritual tradition that when the Gita lists positive qualities, daivi sampada, the very first thing it mentions is fearlessness, abhayam. In our spiritual traditions we equate fearlessness to God and say abhayam vai brahmaa – fearlessness is brahman. When one becomes a sannyasi in Hinduism, the only vow he takes is that of fearlessness – abhayam. Becoming a sannyasi, traditionally the man stands in flowing water and vows that from that moment he shall not fear the world and the world shall have no reason to fear him. The journey of spirituality is into fearlessness and since the journey is into fearlessness, the path too is through fearlessness.
There are different types of courage and there are different types of fearlessness. The courage and fearlessness to go beyond conventional bounds of ethics into the world of true ethics is one of them. Abraham Maslow, the psychologist most famous for his basic human needs triangle, puts it beautifully when he says self-actualized individuals are highly ethical but their ethics is not the conventional ethics of the masses. He says they are guided in their ethics by their own inner light. Krishna means the same thing when he says in the Mahabharata and practices throughout his life satyaad jyeyo’nritam vachah – a lie is [sometimes] nobler than the truth.
Dharma is defined by India as that which sustains – dhaaryate iti dharmah. And to sustain the world, dharma sometimes will have to walk on the path of adharma. Truth will sometimes have to tread the path of lies to do good to the world. And in any case, one of the definitions of truth India gives is as that which does the greatest good to the world – yal-lokahitam atyantam tad satyam. To do good to the world, sometimes we have to, albeit reluctantly and when no other options are available, climb to trans-ethical dimensions as Krishna many times does. And that requires great courage. The courage to risk losing your name and fame, risk falling in the eyes of those who respect you, risk being called a liar and a cheat, selfish and heartless. But there is a big difference between being called a liar and a cheat, selfish and heartless, for one’s own selfish purposes and for the good of others. Every single time Krishna does something that would be called adharma by conventional standards of dharma, he does that in the cause of dharma.
For instance, when he persuades Yudhishthira to tell Drona the lie that Ashwatthama has been killed in the war, he is not doing it because it is the easy way but because there is absolutely no other way to destroy this powerful pillar that has been supporting the edifice of adharma that Duryodhana has built up. After the peace talks at Hastinapura fail, when Krishna takes Karna to a lonely place and there tells him that he is the son of Kunti and not of Radha and hence the eldest of the Pandavas, asks him to leave Duryodhana and join the Pandava side and offers him the Bharata kingdom and also Draupadi in her sixth turn, again he is doing that because there is absolutely no other way left to avoid the war and the slaughter of numberless people.
These actions of Krishna require a different kind of moral courage – to go ahead and do what needs to be done for the common good in spite of whoever or whatever is standing on the path of dharma. And it is this courage that Arjuna lacks when he says he will not fight the war because he will have to kill his own people like Grandsire Bhishma and Guru Drona and other near and dear ones. A kshatriya is bound to do whatever needs to be done to establish dharma, bound to sacrifice his possessions, his name and fame, his life, and if necessary his honour and his values too for it. It is the lack of courage to do this that Arjuna displays in the warfield and it is for this that Krishna calls him a eunuch, a a coward.
What prevents Arjuna from fighting the battle here is not compassion as Sanjaya puts it but mamata or attachment to one’s own people, my-ness, against which the Gita speaks throughout. As far as killing people in war is concerned, Arjuna is a professional warrior and has killed numberless people in battles. But for the first time in his life, here it is a question of killing his own people, people whom he loves and reveres, and it is that that he does not want to do. Krishna and the Gita teach us that our commitment to dharma should be absolute and we should not let mamata stand in its way. Just because the ones who do evil or support evil are our own people, we should not stop opposing them, especially if we are in a position of leadership, especially if we are responsible for protecting righteousness. One of the reasons why the world has sunk into corruption and evil today is that we turn a blind eye if the corrupt and the evil are our own people and it is against this tendency that Krishna speaks in the Gita. For Krishna, more than for anyone else, the war is for we establishing righteousness and value-based leadership among leaders of men and Krishna wants Arjuna as a warrior on his side for that purpose.
Just as we need courage as a leader of men, we also need courage in the spiritual world. Just as the earth is veerabhogya, to be enjoyed by the courageous, spirituality too is for the courageous. In the world of spirituality, the ultimate path is of surrender, of acceptance – surrender to the unknown, acceptance of whatever life brings. If we visualize spirituality as a river, we should be able to let the current of the river carry us with it. We do not progress spiritually if we cling to anything – total surrender, total acceptance, is the path. Just as if a boat is moored to a peg on the bank the river will not be able to carry it with it, if we cling to our small securities, our possessions, our relationships and so on, we will not be able to grow spiritually and awaken. It is this surrendering to the unknown that is called sannyasa and that is what Krishna wants Arjuna to be in the battlefield when Krishna asks him to stand up and fight. And that requires great courage. Spirituality is not for klibas, for cowards, for escapists. Kashchid dheerah... aatmaanam aiti, says the Katha Upanishad: It is a rare courageous individual that attains the self.
Krishna begins his teachings by saying Arjuna is grieving for those who do not deserve to be grieved over – ashochyaan anvashochas tvam. Because he is grieving over the future death of Bhishma, Drona and others, and because death is no more than yet another stage in life like childhood, youth and old age. clothes, says Krishna. Death is certain to the living, everyone born is bound to die and just as everyone born is bound to die, everyone who dies is reborn. Each one of us has lived an endless number of times and we are all going to live endless number of lives in future too. But that death is no more than discarding old clothes and using new ones.
Just as the individuals in our dreams and their joys and sorrows, their failures and successes, their hopes and disappointments all exist only in the mind of the dreamer and they all disappear when the dreamer wakes up, with enlightenment we realize that the waking world too was no more than another dream, albeit a cosmic dream in the cosmic mind. Nothing really matters, it is all a leela, a kreeda, a sport that consciousness plays in itself by becoming prakriti and purusha, the female and the male, Shakti and Shiva, or, as the Bhagavata puts it, a raasa played by Krishna and the endless number of gopis. Our grieving over others is very real to us at the moment, but in reality it is no more real than Sage Narada worrying over his dream wife, dream children and dream property in the dream Krishna created for him when he wanted to know from Krishna what maya is.
Following the Indian tradition, Krishna begins with the highest teachings – the immortality of the soul and the need for living based on this knowledge. But Krishna also knows this living is not open for all – not for Arjuna or any of us ordinary individuals. This knowledge is not something to be learnt from books or from other people – it should be born of one’s own personal experience, what the ancient masters called the aparoksha anubhooti – an experience in which the experiencer, the experienced and the experiencing become one, all duality ends and only the one exists, call it the self, call it the ultimate reality, brahman. So Krishna comes down from the peak of this teaching and gives Arjuna numerous other reasons why he should fight this war for dharma – this dharma yuddha – because nothing is more important than dharma, it is what sustains life on earth. Krishna is here in agreement with the Mahabharata which says dharma should never be forsaken out of desire, fear or greed, or even for the sake of life itself: na jaatu kaamaat na bhayaat na lobbhaad, dharmam tyajej-jivitasyaapi hetoh.
Krishna also teaches Arjuna how to fight that battle for dharma. He tells Arjuna to do it with a calm, serene mind, remaining unaffected by pleasure and pain, gain and loss, and victory and loss: sukhaduhkhe same kritwaa laabhaalaabhau jayaajayau, tato yuddhaaya yujyaswa. One of Arjuna’s reasons for not fighting the war was the fear of sin. He had told Krishna earlier that out of greed for the kingdom if they fight the war, they would be committing the great sin of killing their own people: aho bata mahat-paapam kartum vyavasitaa vayam yad raajya sukhalobhena hantum swajanam udyataah. So Krishna assures him that by fighting the war in this mental state he would not be accruing any sin: naivam paapam avaapsyasi.
Let us look at a few things here before we proceed further. By asking Arjuna to remain undisturbed in pleasure and pain, in gain and loss, and in victory and failure, Krishna is teaching Arjuna the secret of yoga, one of the definitions of which Krishna gives in the Gita is karmasu kaushalam, excellence in action. All over the world today much research is going on in performance excellence, inspired by neurobiology as well as the discoveries of such leading psychologists as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. And the essence of their finding is that excellence in action happens when we get into a particular brain state/mental state. Sportsmen call this the zone, neurobiologists call this the theta brain wave state and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and following him other psychologists call this the flow state, which is a state in which efficiency and excellence flow out of us effortlessly, we spend very little energy in doing what you are doing, our performance is of the highest possible quality and we enjoy what we are doing to such an extent that we feel we are bathing in bliss. One of the characteristics of this state is that you are so focused on what you are doing that you are unaffected by everything external to you and what you are doing. This is a state in which you are calm and serene, so focused on the present that pain, pleasure, victory, failure, gain, loss and so on do not touch you. Krishna is thus teaching Arjuna here the art of action which we can practice everywhere, including our professional work, whether it is as a car driver or an airplane pilot, whether it is as a cook at home or a hotel chef, as a salesman or an executive, as a gardener or a teacher, or whatever. Stillness of mind multiplies our performance excellence.
Another thing Krishna does here is to tell Arjuna that the war is not for his personal gain, though he does stand for personal gain in the sense that by winning the war he will be gaining the kingdom. The Mahabharata war is for Krishna another war for the purpose for which he has taken incarnation: for destroying adharma and reestablishing dharma in the land. He has been fighting battle after battle for this purpose all his life and this war too is fought for the same purpose – in that sense, for him it is a dharma yuddha, a war fought for the sake of dharma. Krishna through his teachings teaches Arjuna to see the war from that standpoint, from the standpoint of lokasangraha, the good of the world. Like a transformational leader does, Krishna is here raising Arjuna to a higher ethical plane – from that of fighting a war for personal gains to fighting it for the common good.
Krishna also teaches Arjuna here that sin is not in the action, but in the actor, what makes an action sinful or meritorious is the attitude with which it is done. So a lie told to protect innocent life is not sin and is superior to a truth that causes death to the innocent. While for an ordinary man killing will be sin, for a soldier killing the enemy in the battlefield is his dharma. In the context of the Mahabharata war, Krishna tells Arjuna that killing Bhishma and Drona in the battle for dharma is not only right but also his duty because he is a kshatriya and they are fighting for adharma, to make Duryodhana’s empire adharma victorious.
It is also in this chapter that one of the most famous verses in the Gita occurs. At the end of the verses on the highest philosophy, which Krishna calls Sankhya, he moves on to introduce and praise karma yoga and in that context makes this statement:
Karmanyeva adhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana
maa karmaphala-hetur bhoor maa te sango'stu akarmani // 2.47 //
In the verse Krishna states that our power is only over our actions and not over their results and for that reason we should focus fully on what we are doing at the moment, without allowing the past or the future to distract us.
While we should not follow the path of inaction, we should also not be preoccupied with the results of our actions because they are not in our hands, they depend on many factors that are beyond our control. Worrying about the results of our present actions instead of fully focusing on what we are doing is a mere waste of energy and counterproductive.
This verse on karma yoga teaches us the importance of remaining in the now and focusing fully on what we are doing – a condition which modern performance psychology tells us takes us to highest excellence as numerous Olympic level athletes, musicians, dancers, composers and so on prove. When our mind remains undistracted and fully focused on the now, we forget our ego, we achieve self-transcendence, and in that state of self-transcendence, our intelligence, imagination, creativity, problem solving ability and other competencies reach their peak. Karma yoga thus becomes a means not only for excellence but for self-transcendence by transforming karma into yoga – work into meditation. Through karma yoga we are able to achieve all the goals of yoga. And perhaps for the modern man, as Dr Charalampos Mainemelis of London Business School points out, it is the easiest spiritual path because he is restless with energy and drive.
The ultimate goal of yoga is stillness of mind. Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras defines yoga as chitta-vritti-nirodha – making the vrittis of the mind still. Vrittis are everything in the mind – like thoughts, ideas, plans, emotions, memories and so on and stopping them means making the mind still, achieving stillness of the mind. As Adi Shankaracharya states in Vivekachudamani and in many other places, the only thing that prevents us from realizing our true nature and weaves webs of illusions for us is the mind and when the mind becomes still, when we reach the state that Zen calls no-mind, we experience enlightenment, we have what is known as aparoksha anubhooti, which is the personal experience of our true nature.
When Krishna speaks of this state in which the mind stands still in the self in the state of samadhi, the highest state of meditation, yathaa sthaasyati nishchalaa samadhaavachalaa buddhih, Arjuna calls such a man sthitaprajna and asks what the nature of a sthitaprajna is, how he walks, how he speaks and so on. In the last eighteen verses of the Gita, answering Arjuna’s questions, Krishna describes the nature of a sthitaprajna, a man whose wisdom has become steady. A sthitaprajna is beyond everything we call samsara – the world of pairs of opposites like success and failure, loss and gain and so on. A sthitaprajna is no more enamored by the world – he does not chase after name and fame, wealth and possessions and so on under the belief that they will bring him joy, for he has known through his own direct experience that the source of all joy is himself, that through all our chasing of the world what we are trying to do without knowing it is to reach that ocean of joy within us.
But at the same time, Krishna does not say no to the world, deny the world. He says the sthitaprajna has no need to say no to the world, he is as happy in a hut as in a palace, as happy in a palace as in a hut, equally happy when he succeeds and fails, nothing makes a difference to him. He is, says the final verse of the chapter, like the ocean which remains full and complete and pleasures enter him without creating a ripple within him just as rivers enter the ocean without really making a difference to it.
To be Continued