Krishna admonished Arjuna, "Give up this faint-heartedness! Pluck up your courage and fight! This weakness of heart that has overtaken you is not becoming of a great hero!"
What was responsible for Arjuna's despondency? It was ignorance. Because of ignorance he developed body-consciousness, and because of body-consciousness he became confused and weak-minded; he lost all his resolve and courage and was unable to accomplish anything.
Krishna told Arjuna, "As long as you are weak-minded, even the smallest task will not get done. You will be haunted by sorrow. Do you know what causes this sorrow? It is your attachment. You are infatuated with a sense of my people, my kinsmen, my friends. This possessive attitude stems from ignorance. Attachment and infatuation will always make you faint hearted and plunge you into grief. These are the real enemies you must battle and conquer.
"As long as you are swayed by this possessive attitude, thinking only of your self, your family, your people, your things, you can be certain that sooner or later you will be cast into sorrow. You must shift your focus away from your little self and its concerns for me and mine. Align yourself with the will of the divine. Travel from selfishness to selflessness, from bondage to liberation."
More than ever, this teaching is applicable today. For example, think of the time when the school photographer came to take pictures of all the students in your class. When the photos came back from the lab, more than likely you were interested in finding your own photo; you were not as interested in the others' photos. Or consider when your father came home from a long trip, and brought with him presents for every child in the family. You were probably most eager to find out what he had brought for you. These are examples of a widespread selfishness which is prevalent everywhere. But, you should leave this kind of narrowness behind and become broad-minded and selfless. Then you will be a fit instrument in the hands of the divinity and contribute to the welfare of the whole world.
Before the great war referred to in the Gita, Arjuna had participated in a number of battles, but never before had he been overcome by despondency and attachment. Now, the same Arjuna was overwhelmed with grief when he realized that the opponents he had to fight were his own grandfather, his kinsmen and his teacher. This possessive feeling made him feel dejected. He became a victim of infatuation; the feeling of my-ness had crept in. As this attitude grew, its consequence, which is sorrow, also grew along with it. Previously, when Krishna went on his peace mission to the opposing side, Arjuna discouraged it. He urged immediate war. He tried to convince Krishna that the mission would fail, that talk would prove futile and only a victorious war could restore to them the kingdom which had been stolen from Arjuna and his brothers.
At that time, Arjuna told Krishna, "This struggle for right cannot be settled by peaceful means. Our enemies will never agree to the terms of your peace mission. Their hatred and greed is unappeasable. Why waste your time and efforts on them? Good and evil cannot coexist; they are incompatible; they will never join together. Your mission is bound to fail." Then, Arjuna was full of courage and determination because he was not seeing his grandfather, his teacher, his relatives and many of his friends facing him on the opposing side. Before this possessive vision emerged on the eve of the war, it seemed that Arjuna had a very broad vision. But now, standing in the middle of the battlefield, Arjuna's vision was beclouded. His eyes became dim. His heart was heavy and his mind confused. When he saw his close relatives and some of his friends arrayed on the other side ready to fight him, he felt dizzy. He said, "Krishna, I will not fight!"
Remember that Arjuna was about to fight a war to protect righteousness, a war for which he had been preparing for many years. He was already on the battlefield and the war was about to commence. Was that the time to look upon his opponents as relatives? When Krishna heard Arjuna's words he got very angry. He told Arjuna, "This is faint-heartedness. It doesn't become you! A fearless person like you, who has always walked proudly with his head held high like a true hero, now seems to be suffering from timidity. A person who suffers from such faint-heartedness cannot be my disciple. The war is about to start. The final preparations for war have been going on for the past three months, and now the battle plans have been set.
"If you had shown this kind of hesitation in the beginning I would surely not have taken on this task of driving your chariot. At this late stage you are hesitating, after you have convinced friends and relatives of the rightness of your cause and have persuaded them to join your side. Now with them all assembled here, you are laying down your weapons and giving up ignominiously. Is that the way for a hero to act? You are destroying the true spirit of your royal line, whose sworn duty is to protect honor and righteousness. If you continue in this way as a timid, faint-hearted weakling, the coming generation will laugh at your cowardice. You have taken the name of Arjuna but you are not living up to that name!"
What is the meaning of arjuna ? It means sacredness and purity. For such a noble person as Arjuna to lay down his arms and resolve not to fight a battle in which righteousness was at stake could only be due to ignorance. The Lord, being fully aware of the nature of this disease, resolved to eradicate it.
At the very beginning of the Gita, Krishna could have taught the principle of devotion and the commitment to duty and selfless action. But Krishna chose not to do so. In fact, he started speaking only after listening for a long time to Arjuna's weeping and lamentations. While Arjuna was carrying on, Krishna did not interfere at all. He patiently waited while Arjuna verbalized his confused state. Finally Krishna asked, "Arjuna, are you done? Have you vented all your feelings?" It was only at this point that Krishna started teaching.
Just as students become empty after writing their examinations, Arjuna also became empty after airing all his concerns. Then Krishna told him, "This awful defect of weak-mindedness has sprouted in you. I know how to deal with it. I will cure it! It is ignorance which is responsible for this infatuation. This ignorance is causing your weak-mindedness." Then Krishna started instructing Arjuna in the highest wisdom, the knowledge which distinguishes the true self from the false self, the eternal from the ephemeral, the sentient from the insentient.
When a person is overcome with anguish and is suffering from ignorance, what should be done to free him from his delusion? He is like a patient who is in great danger. The first thing the doctor must do is to see to it that the patient gets out of danger. After that the doctor can undertake longer-term treatments. Suppose the patient is in immediate danger of losing his life, then any treatments the patient is given will prove to be useless unless he is first brought out of the emergency. Once he is out of danger, then many therapeutic procedures can be undertaken. For example, if a person is drowning in a river, you must first bring him out of the water, lie him down on the bank, and give him artificial respiration. Then you can start your other treatments to bring up his circulation and get him over the shock. You certainly would not start those treatments while he is in the water, drowning.
Krishna, therefore, gave Arjuna a strong injection of courage to save him from drowning in sorrow and dejection. His immediate first-aid treatment was to teach Arjuna how to discriminate between the true self and the personal self. He said, "Arjuna, as long as you are overcome with fear and anxiety, you will not be able to accomplish anything. Be courageous! Know that you are the atma, not this body; then you will be fearless. I can help you to achieve great things, but only if you base your actions on true knowledge and remain fearless." At this point Krishna was smiling, but Arjuna was weeping.
The one who is always smiling is the Lord. The one who is weeping is man. Krishna is the true self, Arjuna is the false self. One is the embodiment of wisdom and the other is filled with ignorance. Krishna said, "I would like to explain some things to you which are very important. Right now we are behaving in different ways. I am smiling while you are crying. But we could both be alike; either I could become like you or you could become like me. If I should become like you, then I would become weak-minded. But that is impossible! Weakness can never enter into me! On the other hand, if you were to become like me, then you would have to follow me and do as I say." At this Arjuna replied, "Swami, I will do exactly as you say. I will follow all your commands implicitly!" Having given Arjuna sufficient encouragement and strength of purpose, Krishna enabled Arjuna to recover his strong resolve. From that point on, Arjuna undertook to fight, following the directions given by the Lord.
Krishna started his wisdom teachings with some important truths relating to the body and mind. He said, "Arjuna, you think that these people are your relatives and friends. But, what is meant by a relative or a friend? Does it refer to the body or does it refer to the indweller? Bodies are just water bubbles; they come and go. These relatives and friends which you are so attached to now, have all existed before, in any number of births. But were they your relatives and friends then? No. You too have existed countless times before, and I as well. The body, the mind and the intellect are all just so much apparel. They are like the clothes you wear; you change them now and again. They are mere instruments. Why develop a close relationship with these things, getting infatuated with them and then having to suffer so much sorrow and grief?
"Do your duty! All the honor that is due to you as a prince will be bestowed on you. But on the battlefield there cannot be room for any feeling of weak-mindedness and feeble-heartedness. Fighting boldly to preserve righteousness and shrinking in weakness are completely incompatible with each other. To have this timidity on the battlefield is not becoming of a great hero. Your cause is just and you have come to fight. Therefore, fight!" With words such as these, Krishna cured Arjuna of his despondency and helped him to find his strength and courage. When Krishna finished his teaching on the battlefield, Arjuna regained his noble ideals and faced the upcoming fight with renewed valor.
This particular field on which the war was about to be fought had historically been a sacred place, where sacrifices and other sacred and auspicious acts had been performed. At the same time, it was also the place where the dynasty that sprouted the hundred wicked brothers had engaged in its nefarious activities. Therefore, this field was both sacred and corrupted by evil. This field is symbolic of the human body.
When a body is born it is pure and unblemished; it is not a victim of any of the six enemies of man: desire, anger, greed, infatuation, pride and jealousy. A new-born baby is naturally joyful. Whoever may look at it, whether that person is a thief or a king, the baby is happy. It smiles and laughs at anyone who comes towards it, whether that person has come to kiss it or beat it. Since a small child is pure, its body can be described as the field of righteousness. As the body grows, it goes on collecting bad qualities, such as jealousy, hatred, attachment, greed, selfishness. As these evil traits accumulate, the body becomes impure. Therefore, the body can be considered both pure and impure. Good and bad are both encased in your heart.
The impure qualities are associated with my-ness, the possessive tendency. The inner significance of this battle between the forces of good and evil, with the five Pandava brothers and Krishna on one side, and the 100 wicked Kaurava brothers on the other side, is the inner war taking place in each individual, an all-out war between good and bad, between righteousness and immorality, between selflessness and selfishness.
The Kaurava brothers represent those people who consider things which do not belong to them as their own. They represent the possessive nature. They consider the body as their very self. If you observe people of the Kaurava mentality, that is, those having this possessive attitude, you will find that they all identify themselves with the body and the senses. The great war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas lasted only eighteen days, but the war between the forces of good and evil goes on throughout your life. It has no end. This battle is fought in the field of your own body. In this way, Krishna explained some of the deeper significance of the war to Arjuna.
You might wonder why the Gita was taught to Arjuna. Among the Pandavas, some of the other brothers, such as the oldest one, Dharmaraja, who was the very pillar of virtue, might be considered better qualified spiritually than Arjuna. Why was the sacred Gita not taught to Dharmaraja who was known for his outstanding moral strength? Or if you were to consider physical prowess, then Bhima, who was the most powerful among the brothers, would surely have qualified for the teachings. Krishna could have given the Gita to Bhima, but he did not. Why not? Why did he give it only to Arjuna? You have to understand the inner significance of this.
Dharmaraja was the embodiment of righteousness, but he did not have foresight. He did not think about the future consequences of his actions. Only after events had already occurred, did he think about their consequences and feel sorry for what he had done. He had hindsight but not foresight. If you take Bhima, he, of course, had great physical strength, but he did not have much intelligence. He was able to uproot a tree, but he was lacking in discrimination. Arjuna, on the other hand, had foresight. For example, Arjuna told Krishna, "I would rather be dead than fight against these people. It will mean so much suffering later on, even if we win the war."
In contrast to Arjuna's anguish about all the suffering that would be brought on by this war, Dharmaraja was quite ready to get on with the battle, although later he felt deeply depressed about all the killing when the war was over. Years earlier, Dharmaraja had been pulled in to a royal game of dice, in which he lost everything, including his wealth, his kingdom, and even his wife. Afterwards, he was filled with great anguish and remorse. Whenever a person without discrimination and foresight is called upon to make a decision while in the midst of difficult circumstances, he invariably regrets his actions later on. This was also the nature of King Dasaratha, who was the father of Rama, the divine incarnation 5000 years earlier. King Dasaratha lacked foresight and discrimination.
Early in his reign, Dasaratha had to fight a war to defend and preserve righteousness. In this war he took his young queen, Kaikeyi, with him. Kaikeyi had been a princess in a warrior kingdom and had been well schooled in the art of warfare. It was Kaikeyi, in fact, who taught Rama archery and some of the methods of waging war. When Dasaratha was fighting during the war, one of the wheels of his chariot started coming off. Kaikeyi used her finger to keep the wheel from separating itself from the axle. In so doing, she saved Dasaratha's life, as well as her own.
After having achieved victory, King Dasaratha noticed that her hand was bleeding profusely. Seeing her plight, he was so overwhelmed with infatuation and so pleased with her courage and sacrifice that he told her, "Kaikeyi, you can ask for two boons. Ask for anything that you wish, and I shall do all in my power to grant them to you!" He granted the boons in gratitude for her heroic act in saving their lives. But his infatuation with her blinded him to her weak-mindedness. He did not specify what kind of boons she should ask for nor when they should take effect. He blindly granted the promise of boons without thinking of any of the possible consequences.
Kaikeyi waited until the time when Dasaratha decided to hand over the kingdom to Rama. At that point, Kaikeyi asked for Rama to be banished to the forest, and for her son, Bharatha, to be put on the throne instead. Then Dasaratha felt desperately sorry for having granted the boons without any pre-conditions. But it was too late to retract them, and the resulting grief brought on his death.
We know that Krishna had a great deal of affection for Arjuna, but is that the reason he taught the Gita to Arjuna and not to one of the other brothers? No. Krishna looked at all the consequences, all the implications, and found Arjuna alone qualified to receive the Gita from him. Arjuna foresaw what was going to happen after the war, and therefore declared that he did not want to fight, because the consequences would be very bad. He was not feeling sorry after the war was over, but before. That attitude of feeling sorry before taking action, instead of afterwards, can only be found in a pure heart. Arjuna certainly had such a pure and sacred heart and that is why Krishna was so fond of him.
In those days people lived much longer than they do today. At the time of the great war, Krishna and Arjuna were already quite advanced in years, by today's standards. For over 70 years, Krishna and Arjuna had been inseparably together. Although they were together for so many years, at no time during all those years did Krishna teach the Gita to Arjuna. Why was this so? During all those years Arjuna treated Krishna as his brother-in law and his close friend. Krishna did not teach the Gita to Arjuna as long as Arjuna was living with body-consciousness.
The moment Arjuna surrendered and accepted discipleship, then Krishna became his teacher and Arjuna became Krishna's student. Only after this act of surrender on the part of Arjuna did Krishna teach him the Gita. This means that if you really want to acquire spiritual knowledge from another, you have to relate to that person as disciple to spiritual teacher, before the transfer of knowledge can flow freely.
In the ancient scriptures there is a similar story of a great teacher. At that time there was no greater teacher than he. But he sent his own son to another teacher to attain spiritual knowledge. The father himself would not teach his son. He took this step because he knew that as long as the son considered him the father, the boy would not relate to him fully as the teacher, and therefore, the boy would not have been properly instructed in the highest wisdom. This was also the situation with Krishna and Arjuna. As long as the relationship of brother-in-law existed between them, Arjuna could not receive knowledge from Krishna. But once this feeling of brothers-in-law left his heart and the feeling of being in the presence of the supreme divinity entered Arjuna's heart, then Arjuna was able to learn from Krishna.
After Arjuna had surrendered completely and developed the feeling that Krishna was divine, he said to Krishna:
You are my mother,
You are my father,
You are my nearest kin,
You are my dearest friend,
You are my wisdom,
You are my treasure,
You are my everything,
You are my Lord, my loving Lord.
It was then that Krishna accepted him as a disciple. At that point Krishna said, "You do my work. Do everything for me and I shall take care of you." The most important thing that Krishna did was to free Arjuna from the feeling of body-consciousness. So long as body-consciousness persists, regardless of what path you follow, whether it is the path of selfless service or the path of devotion or the path of inner inquiry, you will not be able to practice the required disciplines that will lead you to the goal. Body-consciousness and the attachments resulting from it will constantly pollute your heart. Without emptying the heart of its dross, it is not possible to fill it up with sacred feelings. If a tumbler is full of water, how can you fill it with milk? You first have to empty the water. Krishna said, "Arjuna, you are full of body-consciousness. First you must completely rid yourself of this. Only then will I be able to fill your heart with sacred thoughts."
Krishna's teachings were aimed at freeing Arjuna of his infatuations, and the grief and sorrow which resulted from them. The two most important steps in this process are surrender and elimination of body-consciousness. Once Arjuna's body-consciousness was gone, Krishna was ready to reveal to Arjuna the highest spiritual teaching, that of self-knowledge. With that, Krishna awakened Arjuna out of his sleep of ignorance. He said, "There are a number of reasons for your sorrow but the most fundamental one is your ignorance. You have been unaware of your true nature and therefore you have become overwhelmed with grief. But now you have cried out for God. You have cried out for righteousness. You have cried out for me. When you cry for me, I will take care of you and give you everything you need."
You all cry for so many different things, but do you cry out for God? Do you shed tears when there is a decline of righteousness? When you do, the Lord will establish himself in your heart, teach you his highest wisdom, and make you an instrument in his mission. For this, you must have courage and inner strength. Krishna told Arjuna, "You should never have any kind of weak-heartedness. It is only after you remove such weakness from your heart that the divine power will enter and reside in your heart. If you do not have courage, even sheep will frighten you, not to speak of evil minded men. You must have the capacity to face all circumstances. If you run away in fear, even monkeys will attack you. But, if you have a stick and stand your ground, the monkeys will not come near you. Whatever the circumstance, face it squarely and do not show your back. Then will you be able to achieve what you set out to do."
The essence of this teaching is, "Be courageous! Be fearless!" Courage is the primary instrument for achieving any kind of success. You need to have more courage and more determination. But you should not have blind and foolish courage. Courage must be accompanied by discrimination; only then will success be assured.
* * *