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In refusing to fight, what is Arjuna calling into question?

Arjuna is troubled by various facets of his war mission. The first and foremost is the killing of his kin and kith. Across the battle line in Kurukshetra stand his cousins, uncles and former gurus. How heartless one needs to be to be able to desimmate one’s own flesh and blood, he asks Krishna. Arjuna is also uncertain of the legitimacy of war itself. How can so much bloodshed be toward a noble cause, he queries Krishna. Moreover, Arjuna fails to see how the enterprise of war could lead to liberation from worldly existence. To his intuition it appeared as if war stood for all that was denounced in the Vedas.

What is Arjuna’s duty according to the Vedic ideal?

According to the Vedic scriptures, Arjuna should act according to his Svabava and the resulting Swadharma. Svabava can be loosely translated as an individual’s natural gifts and personality traits. Swadharma is those set of codes of behavior that arise from one’s Svabava. Arjuna, by virtue of being born into the warrior caste – Kshatriya – needs to fulfill his duties in the battleground. It is implicitly required of him to succeed in battle to achieve the ultimate goal of moksha or worldly liberation.

What does Arjuna see as the only alternative to fighting?

As he finds the prospect of engaging in a fatalistic battle with his brethren heart-wrenching, Arjuna asks Krishna if he can renounce his arms and make peace with the Kauravas. Arjuna even contemplates the ascetic way of life toward reaching God. But as Krishna points out these alternatives are weak and cowardly. They do not resolve the calls of dharma.

What path does Krishna show him?

Lord Krishna’s main line of encouragement to Arjuna comes from the principles of Dharma, which can be interpreted as natural justice. Arjuna’s birth into the warrior caste is the foremost compulsion for his destiny with the battle field. But beyond the dictates of the varna (or caste), there is also the consideration of Sanatana Dharma, which stands for universal order. Krishna expounds that there is a universal law of nature at play and it is impending on individuals to play their part in fulfilling these laws. The obliteration of evil is an important facet to Sanatana Dharma. Irrespective of what form this evil manifests itself in, the dutiful human being should participate in quelling it.

What does Krishna put forth as the key to liberation from rebirth?

The key to achieving moksha, or liberation from rebirth, is the merging of jeevatma (the substance of the individual soul) with paramatma (the spirit of the cosmos). But this mission cannot be accomplished through esoteric practices of asceticism alone. Equally important for attaining moksha, is the completion of one’s duties toward self and community. These rules are laid out in Yogic texts under Karma Yoga, which is the aspiration toward moksha by participating in worldly deeds. Krishna thus elucidates to Arjuna how the battle ground of the Kurushetra can be an arena for self-emancipation.

How does Krishna upholds the Vedic view of supporting the world while also accommodating the world-denying view?

Krishna attempts to show Arjuna that the monistic and dualistic views of the world are not incompatible. He explains to Arjuna how noble worldly deeds could propel an individual toward cosmic assimilation. Krishna invokes the notion of Saguna Brahman or Personal God in urging Arjuna to unify his wisdom, devotion and the desire for liberation from earthly existence. Under this view, even the most mundane of daily activities could help in liberation if it was done in proper spirit. Hence, there is no necessity for Arjuna to shun all things attached to the world. Such an attitude would hinder his fulfilment of dharma. Krishna further entreats Arjuna to think of Kurushetra as a metaphor or allegory for the moral struggle that is the basis of spiritual progress. Thus, even the carnal and barbaric tendency witnessed in the battle ground could be tapped into and channelled into spiritual awareness.

Work Cited:

The Bagavad Gita, translated by Shri Purohit Swami, retrieved from http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/The-Bhagavad-Gita-Translation-by-Shri-Purohit-Swami.pdf on 16th May, 2013

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