Bhagavad-Gita is India’s favorite scripture.
Or, at least, it is the most popular and widely read in and out of the country’s borders.
The book has no real plot per se, because it’s actually an excerpt of 18 chapters from India’s epic poem, Mahabharata. All the plot is in the Mahabharata, whereas the Gita is straight dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna at the crescendo of Mahabharata’s storyline.
So, the first chapter is really a transition from the high-action plot line of Mahabharata into the deep, Upanisad-like, guru-disciple dialogue of the Gita. Because it links the pure philosophy of Gita with the war-poised storyline of Mahabharata, a few sticky topics pop up in this first section.
The most jarring of these is the fact that Arjuna wants to avoid war, but Krishna wants him to fight. This seems quite backwards. Isn’t humanity supposed to be violent, and divinity supposed to inspire us to peace?
But Arjuna is not really a proponent of peace. He is a warrior through and through. This is his occupation, his career, his life. The reason he says, “I shall not fight” is not that he wants to put a flower in every soldier’s gun. Arjuna, admits in plain language, that he doesn’t want to fight because he doesn’t want to suffer the misery that will personally result to him if he does fight.
A fundamental and central philosophical point of the Gita is that morality means doing what you are responsible for, regardless if you like it or not.
Regardless of pleasure or displeasure, we are supposed to do what we are supposed to do. We are to carry out our responsibilities, regardless if they make us smile or frown, relaxed or stressed. This is what purifies a human being from selfishness and makes him or her eligible for liberation and divine love.
The Gita starts out with Arjuna displaying an example of behavior completely contradictory to this principle.
He is a warrior. It is his duty to fight against what is unjust and wrong. That is his responsibility. His responsibility is to wield weapons, not pick flowers. He wants to give up his responsibilities, not because he suddenly realizes peace is some glorious ideal and he shouldn’t have been a warrior in the first place.
No, he wants to give up fighting because it is going to bring him stress and distress in a huge way.
Krishna is telling Arjuna to fight, because his message is to never abandon our duties based on personal pleasure or displeasure.
But, what if I decide that my duty is to kill a thousand people in a train, movie theater, or skyscraper? Would Krishna’s encourage me to do my duty?
No, because you don’t choose your duty. Duty is not chosen, it is given. Otherwise it is not duty, it’s recreation.
OK, then what if some guru like figure tells me it’s my duty to kill thousands of people. Would the Gita support this?
“Gurus” also have no right to independently choose anyone’s duty.
Who has the right? Shastra does.
Shastra literally means “authority” and practically means the laws and morality of the human culture, typically codified in law books and scriptures.
So, if I am lawfully a warrior, and my country deems that it is my duty to fight, and I follow that duty, does the Gita support it?
Yes, basically. In my opinion, the Gita says that you are acting in a moral manner by doing your duty. If it is an unrighteous war, then the people who sent you to fight will suffer horrible karma for it, but not much of that responsibility will fall to you because you are simply doing your duty.
So, who decides the laws and morality of human culture?
That’s the real question.
In India the majority of the laws and morality were decided by very enlightened persons. Therefore, in history, we never find India acting as a violent country. Indian morality and law is far from perfect, especially in recent centuries, but still, her non-violent history serves to illustrate an undeniable point that the morality of Gita, taken in context, doesn’t cause terrorists and holy wars—as some people try to claim.
He is also a practicing astrologer, prolific writer and former guitarist and song writer in the popular underground spiritual-punk band, 108. His astrology website is available here.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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