Spoken on a battlefield, the Bhagavad-Gita enunciates transcendental principles so vital that the Lord wanted them established even at the cost of a great war!
In the Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 13, verse 8, Lord Krishna enunciates ahimsa or non-violence as an item of knowledge. Yet, in the Gita, the Lord is inciting Arjuna to war! Is there a contradiction in the Lord’s teachings?
To understand this, we should recognise an important aspect of living – Dharma. It is higher principles of living that differentiate human society from the animal. Principles though vital to humanity are to be followed willingly. One of the meanings of Dharma is the code of conduct for human society. Human actions should not be whimsical but bound by principles meant for the elevation of the individual as well as society at large. These codes are not man made, they are ordained by God as indicated in the following verse:
karma brahmodbhavaṁ viddhi
tasmāt sarva-gataṁ brahma
nityaṁ yajñe pratiṣṭhitam
“Regulated activities are prescribed in the Vedas, and the Vedas are directly manifested from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Consequently, the all-pervading Transcendence is eternally situated in acts of sacrifice.”
Excerpt From: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is – Macmillan 1972 Edition” 3.15
The Supreme Personality of Godhead intends human society to be principled and to that end, He enunciates all the principles human beings need to live by.
Purpose of Dharma
The living being situated in a material body is not an inhabitant of the material world but an eternal being belonging to the Lord’s spiritual abode. The purpose of executing dharma is to restore the performer to his actual home. This is indicated in some of the verses of the Gita.
anta-kāle ca mām eva
smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ
yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this, there is no doubt.”
Excerpt From: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is – Macmillan 1972 Edition” 8.5
avyakto ‘kṣara ity uktas
tam āhuḥ paramāṁ gatim
yaṁ prāpya na nivartante
tad dhāma paramaṁ mama
“That supreme abode is called unmanifested and infallible, and it is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode.”
Excerpt From: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is – Macmillan 1972 Edition “ 8.21
vedeṣu yajñeṣu tapaḥsu caiva
dāneṣu yat puṇya-phalaṁ pradiṣṭam
atyeti tat sarvam idaṁ viditvā
yogī paraṁ sthānam upaiti cādyam
“A person who accepts the path of devotional service is not bereft of the results derived from studying the Vedas, performing austere sacrifices, giving charity or pursuing philosophical and fruitive activities. At the end, he reaches the supreme abode.”
Excerpt From: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is – Macmillan 1972 Edition” 8.28
man-manā bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi yuktvaivam
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.”
Excerpt From: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is – Macmillan 1972 Edition” 9.34
man-manā bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi satyaṁ te
pratijāne priyo ‘si me
“Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus, you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.”
Excerpt From: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is – Macmillan 1972 Edition.” 18.65
Process of dharma
Dharma has a process. There is a way to attain the abode of the Lord. It involves executing the instructions laid down by Him. The Lord after speaking analytically of the difference between soul and body teaches a process of transcendence. He terms the process as buddhi yoga.
bahu-śākhā hy anantāś ca
“Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one. O beloved child of the Kurus, the intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched.”
Excerpt From: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is – Macmillan 1972 Edition” 2.41
In this verse, the Lord introduces the idea of Vyavasayatmika Buddhi or resolute intelligence. Intelligence can be utilised to make plans for fulfilling the myriad desires that permeate the mind, or it may be utilised to neglect those desires choosing instead to follow the instructions of the spiritual master. The latter is the path of dharma and hence dharma involves abnegation.
The Lord considers the following aspect of dharma so important that he repeats it in two chapters 9 & 18.
“Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me.”
Dharma involves directing our consciousness to the Lord by carefully observing the principles He has taught. The ultimate goal is to attain spontaneous Love for Him. Without practice however one cannot reach such a stage. The strength of yogic practice should be gained. The highest yogic practice is bhakti.
Adharma or irreligion is the way of life in ignorance of the ultimate goal. Lacking an ultimate purpose, sense gratification becomes the natural end. The Lord teaches that in such a path the intelligence remains incapable of higher endeavour
samādhau na vidhīyate
“In the minds of those who are too attached to sense enjoyment and material opulence, and who are bewildered by such things, the resolute determination of devotional service to the Supreme Lord does not take place.”
Excerpt From: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is – Macmillan 1972 Edition” 2.44
Those maddened by lust, refuse to submit to regulative principles. They wish to capture objects of their heart’s desire and obtain as many of them as possible. Their tendency is to lord over everything and they do not hesitate to employ violence and cunning in their manic quests. Attracted to the impermanent, blind to the miserable material condition they are prepared to inflict any misery on others for their personal gain. This is indicated in the 16th Chapter of the Gita.
kāmam āśritya duṣpūraṁ
“The demoniac, taking shelter of insatiable lust, pride, and false prestige, and being thus illusioned, are always sworn to unclean work, attracted by the impermanent.”
Excerpt From: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is – Macmillan 1972 Edition” 16.10
Kauravas were Irreligious
The adharmic mentality was epitomised by the Kauravas. They tried to snatch away the Kuru kingdom from the Pandavas by devious means. They wantonly breached religious principles. Their actions were steeped in lust, greed, anger hatred & envy, the very qualities that the Gita directs humanity to eschew. Despite their wickedness, they had a large military support of like-minded kings indicating the widespread prevalence of adharma.
Effects of Adharma
The natural world is situated in a delicate balance. It reacts badly to excesses. When natural resources are accepted without greed, there is abundance and harmony. This clearly indicates that by the Lord’s supreme will, natural resources are not meant for accumulation by the few, but to be shared among the many. The Lord is the father of the ant and the elephant and has supplied sufficiently in nature for both of them. It is the greedy human being who instead of utilising time for higher pursuit endeavours to monopolise God given supplies and disturbs the natural balance. By the Lord’s arrangement, everyone is granted a predestined share of resources and he must not transgress his limit to grab what belongs to others. Isopanisad says that
“One should, therefore, accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one must not accept other things, knowing well to Whom they belong.”
The world situation today illustrates the result of adharma. Human beings in their greed to dominate resource have created havoc in the world. We can see powerful nations unleashing armies, weapons, and technology for capturing natural resources, indoctrinating masses with false education and propaganda aimed at serving the greedy interest of a tiny minority. Consequently, the whole world steeped in irreligion is grievously harassed in innumerable ways.
The Pandavas, on the other hand, practised dharma to the core. Despite being put into life threatening situations, going through severe hardships, fraud, and humiliation, their devotion to Lord Krishna never waned. The adversities, on the other hand, intensified their devotion. In fact in one verse in the Srimad Bhagavatam Kunti Devi, the mother of the Pandavas, prays to Krishna for the calamities to return because in danger their remembrance of Him was more intense. That remembrance, she reveals would help them cross the ocean of birth and death. Their goal was nothing impermanent, but eternal. For them, the Lotus Feet of the Supreme Lord was the ultimate destination and for that, they were willing to tolerate all the miseries that life sent them.
This prayer reveals their unflagging devotion and feeling of complete dependence on the Lord. They lived not in illusion but in realisation. The Pandavas were fully conscious of their eternal relationship with Krishna.
The Platform of Devotion
When a soul understands his incapability of mitigating suffering and understands his dependence on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he awakens to the eternal truth. He sees pride as an effect of the illusory self-image. Self-realisation enables him to see himself as an eternal part and parcel of the Supreme Absolute Truth, Lord Krishna. The narrow bodily conception of life no longer influences his consciousness. With selflessness and humility, his pure love for Krishna gradually blossoms. The Pandavas were situated on that highest platform of pure devotion to the Lord.
Lord Krishna desired to re-establish the pure religion that the Pandavas espoused and a mighty, belligerent, irreligious force was resisting His supreme will. Hence, the Lord brought together all the irreligious parties at the battlefield of Kurukshetra and in 18 days of unprecedented violence en masse annihilated all of them in order to establish the righteous state that would not propagate greed of the mundane but divine austerity for the Supreme. It would pave the way for a government that would liberate the souls entrapped in perishable shrouds called as bodies and restore them to their eternal home in the spiritual sky. It was The Supreme Father wanting to establish the means to take His children back home.
Although millions of soldiers lost their lives, they all attained salvation simply by dying in the presence of Krishna. Despite their sinful lives and heinous acts, the Lord gave them an opportunity of freedom from material bondage.
When the soul controlled by illusion breaches the limits of the Lord’s arrangement, the Lord descends to rectify the situation:
yadā yadā hi dharmasya
glānir bhavati bhārata
tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.”
Excerpt From: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Bhagavad-gita As It Is – Macmillan 1972 Edition” 4.7
The Lord’s desire for the embodied soul is to vigorously strive for eluding the bodily imprisonment and returning to His transcendental abode. When human society at large neglects the Lord’s divine will and is given to selfish enjoyment, the Lord descends to re-establish the eternal principles in society.
In the present time, the Sankirtana movement of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is tenaciously working to disseminate and institute the Lord’s transcendental goodwill by spreading the congregational singing and chanting of the sublime mantra for deliverance
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Thus, Gita is not a book that propagates violence, but one that establishes the supreme religion of love of God. If there is a call for war in the Gita it is an expression of the Lord’s supreme desire to uproot adharma for the ultimate benefit of humanity.