Why the Bhagavad-Gita is Not a Terrorist Manual. ~ Vic DiCara

Via elephant journal
on Sep 19, 2012
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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?

image from BBT

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.


Vic DiCara (Vraja Kishor das) practices Gaudiya Vaishnava sadhana in Southwestern Japan. His blogs are Bhagavatam by Braja and Bhagavad Gita Plain and Simple.

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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19 Responses to “Why the Bhagavad-Gita is Not a Terrorist Manual. ~ Vic DiCara”

  1. Annie Ory says:

    Why should the Indian spiritual guide be any different from the others? All "gods" implore their followers to war, because these are not the voices of the gods, they are projections of mankind and our nature is both peaceful and violent. Those of us who are here on the planet today are here because our ancestors "won" the wars that killed most humanity through history, even the small battles, between one hungry child and another. It is our nature to fight to survive. Holy books are what they are because we wrote them, and we are what we are because we the product of generations of people who've won the right to survive and breed through any means necessary.

    I wonder what the spiritual books would ask of us, if they were truly given by some divine being…

  2. Hi, Vic. Welcome to elephant journal.

    Great to see a new Gita commentator here.

    Looking forward to more.

    Bob W. elephant journal
    facebook, twitter, linkedIn
    Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

  3. Steve Clark says:

    You're interpreting the myth literally. It's a metaphor. The battle relates to the spiritualists relationship to the mind. It's a battle. Plus, you missed the point about what yoga is. Krishna says "There is no yoga where there is hatred, fear, or even agitation." How many real-life warriors have ever gone into a fight without experiencing at least some agitation. And hatred and fear? Maybe all real-world warriors experience those things, so the yogic dharma of a real soldier can't be realistically connected to an actual battle. Plus, dharma is misunderstood to mean duty. It means knowledge. Nothing could be more ridiculous than believing that people go to war with knowledge, and going to war is no one's duty. Literalists and fundamentalists use the idea to excuse their homicidal mania.

  4. vicdicara says:

    If this is the case, Annie, then India should have a violent history. Instead it has a non-violent history.

  5. vicdicara says:

    Thank you and Catherine Gosh for ushering me towards this oasis. And thanks to Thaddius for his help with the article.

  6. vicdicara says:

    I disagree, Steven.

    The gita is surely useful as a metaphor – but it is not merely a metaphor. The literal conditions of the storyline are part of the instruction. We should not ignore them just because they are confusing or challenging.

    The entire point of the Gita is to stess that Arjuna must fight without hatred, fear or other personal motivations or demotivations. The lack of good examples of good warriors and good fights during the current ages of darkness and deception does not preclude the feasibility of it.

  7. Vivian Lennon says:

    Great article, I appreciate your points!

  8. vicdicara says:

    Thank you Vivian!

  9. yogijulian says:

    nonsense. plenty of violence in the history of india! do you realize that when you make factual statements these can actually be checked?!

    here's a timeline of religious violence in india: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_violence_i

    the partition between india and pakistan created as a result of religious conflict: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_India

    india also has nukes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India_and_weapons_of… mainly with which to threaten the pakistani muslims!

    then there is the kashmir conflict: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insurgency_in_Jammu_

    hindu's attack muslims in 2002: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archiv

    1962 war with china: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sino-Indian_War

    a gallery of photos from all of indias history of wars: http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/LAND-FORCES/Army/Ga

  10. yogijulian says:

    this is a classic example of how metaphysical mystification is used to rationalize moral relativism, intellectual disengagement and otherworldly delusions.

    of course it matters if wars are just. of course it matters whether or not your duty is being done in the service of something you believe in.

    i grew up in apartheid south africa and was a proud conscientious objector, refusing to serve in a military that upheld an unjust system, faced 6 years jail time and fled to the usa. by your logic i should have gone into battle in the black townships on the side of the racists i despised, based in some vedantic idealist notion of my true identity in the world beyond.

    do you even realize how obscene that is?

    outdated notions of duty (dharma) being an extension of destiny (karma) are so damaging to how contemporary yogis think about the relationships between reason, spirituality and political issues.

    wake up! think for yourself. bu humanist, intellectually-engaged contemporary standards the gita has a repugnant message about how to think about the tough issues inherent in war and other sociopolitical concerns. using appeals to ancient authority to make it seem as if we are caught in an illusion and the gita's message is the higher truth is part of the pretention that sickens me about the western yoga community.

    combined with the claim you basically pulled out of thin air (or elsewhere) that india does not have a violent history, i am unimpressed.

    "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. "

    come on.

    (i gave numerous links above to the actual history of india.)

  11. Vic DiCara says:

    India is a non-violent nation in comparison to other nations. As the "Timeline of religious violence in India" that you linked to explains: There is NO history of violence in ancient India. And in medieval India all the violence was brought in by Islamic invaders. Similarly, modern conflict with Islam in India is largely a result of the divide and conquer policy of the British who occupied India.

    The modern wold has become global, and countries have lost their culture and merged. Still even in modern times India is the largest vegetarian nation and is the homeland of Gandhi and non-violent civil resistance.

  12. Vic DiCara says:

    You are entitled to your opinion that this is "metaphysical mystification." However, I politely disagree and feel that it represents a focus on the actual message of Gita.

    Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to clarify. I agree that it is the duty of thinkers to protest injustice perpetrated by rulers and warriors. This is why the original Indian social system put the thinkers in charge of the rulers and warriors (i.e. Brahmanas govern the Ksatriyas).

    One with jaundice says that sugar is bitter, but the Gita's message is neither outdated nor repugnant in the least. Certainly some of the cultural paradigms linking the Gita to the Mahabharata raise important questions and require thoughtful consideration. I have attempted to do so in this article. I hope you may reconsider it a few times in a calm demeanor.

    I have replied to your statement about India's "violent history" elsewhere on this page.

    Thank you for your interest in the article.

  13. Chris Fici says:

    Great piece Vic. Happy to have you in the Elephant family.

    A question: If India itself can't be said to have expressed violence in its history, what about the fact that it was overrun by so many different cultures/nations over the last millennium. Isn't there something to be said for fighting against imperial and exploitative invasions of one's own space and culture?

  14. Vic DiCara says:

    Dear Chris,

    Thank you for your kind welcome. Yes I agree with you. I think that the martial component of India decayed significantly in the middle ages (in comparison with the mahabharata era), maybe as a result of the considerable influence of buddhism and jainism towards extreme non-violence; or maybe by some other cause(s). At the time of the invasions, only Jaipur had any significant warriors, and therefore Jaipur became a shelter for all the icons and "idols" the muslims came to smash and decapitate. Seeing Sri Sri Radha-Govinda Mandir in Vrindavana with all of it's beautiful top stories chopped off does make me wish India maintained her warrior tradition more carefully.

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  18. anny says:

    I take a girl with jaundice, each month I’ll send some money for medical expenses, I did not know what that looked like jaundice was in a web page and a known resultaque commented me and adotamos girl and every month we send photos.

  19. GRamam says:

    dharma is misunderstood to mean duty. It means knowledge

    Cool! I did not know that – is there a link to this?