Everyday Bhagavad-Gita: Violence in the Bhagavad-Gita.
Verse 2.33: If, however, you do not perform your religious duty of fighting, then you will certainly incur sins for neglecting your duties and thus lose your reputation as a fighter.
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and puzzled over aspects of the Gita concerns the fact that it takes place on a battlefield and that Krishna, God, has to convince his humble servant Arjuna to fight.
I grew up surrounded by the culture of bhakti and I have to admit that this confused the heck out of me for many, many years. The path of bhakti is all about compassion, love, tolerance, humility and respect. And so what gives? Isn’t Krishna’s encouraging Arjuna to fight completely contradictory to the essence of bhakti?
It was only when I studied the Gita under the guidance of extremely advanced and qualified bhakti practitioners that I began to understand something crucial. There is a time and place for everything. Nothing is good or bad in and of itself. Take for example a knife. In an expert surgeon’s hand, it’s an instrument of healing and whereas in the hands of a criminal it is an instrument of harm.
In this case, Arjuna is a leader, an administrator and a protector. Therefore, it is his duty to take care of those who depend on him. Duryodhana, who wrongfully usurped the kingdom, is not a qualified leader having obtained his power through trickery and force. We forget that the consciousness of those in power has a direct impact on others. And since Duryodhana is the epitome of selfishness, deceit and unlawfulness, this is the mentality he would bring to the kingdom.
Krishna is not asking Arjuna to fight for himself, but on behalf of his subjects who need to be saved from this type of rule.
Imagine a parallel situation. A thug is harassing someone on the road. A policeman witnesses the situation and realizes that to help the victim, he might need to use force on the thug. Believing that using force is always bad, he simply walks away. Do you think the policeman did the right thing?
Most people would probably agree the policeman’s inaction is even worse than those of the thug because it is the policeman’s duty to help those who are in need. The application of force and fighting is sometimes necessary to help those who are dependent and helpless.
The consciousness of those involved in such activities is also extremely important. Krishna is not encouraging Arjuna to fight so that he can enjoy the kingdom. Similarly, the policeman is, hopefully, not motivated to help others for recognition, but out of a sense of duty and responsibility.
In the world today, the concept of acting in the right consciousness and out of duty are foreign concepts, what to speak of the fact that we don’t have qualified leaders and protectors. But, this doesn’t mean that the aspiring bhakti yogi doesn’t fight. Oh no, we do.
Our fight though is against our minds.
We do battle with our tendency to remain complacent and lazy and actually strive to be spiritually active and involved. It is often said that the path of bhakti is simple, but not easy. Reading bhakti texts, hearing inspiring talks and engaging in mantra meditation all take time, effort, discipline, and above all else, a desire to move beyond our everyday existence.
It’s about time, place, circumstance, and motivation. So, before you draw a line in the sand, remember that even bhakti can benefit from a little force now and again.
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Editor: Thaddeus Haas