12.19.12

BZ text: chap 11: The bewildered intellectual

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:57 pm

11

The Bewildered Intellectual

IN the history of the world, wars have been fought with
different aims, territorial acquisition being only one of them.

Sometimes the underlying cause of a clash between belligerents
was struggle for the ascendancy of a particular class by the
suppression of other classes in a society. Though Brahmin
writers have with one voice declared the Mahabharata War to
have been the result of high-handedness of the Kauravas in
depriving the Pandavas of their rightful share in the kingdom,
the real reason has to be sought in the different ideologies
espoused by the Brahmins and the kshatriyas. It is true that
the war was fought between two clans of the warrior caste and
on either side were arrayed various kshatriya chiefs of northern
India, but behind the scenes, pulling the wires, were the leaders
ofneo-Brahminism who were deeply concerned in the outcome
of the war.

There is evidence that freedom-lovers and progressives were
strongly opposed to the war which, they anticipated, would
spell ruin but, having already weakened, their opposition was
a cry in the wilderness. Farsighted kshatriyas too disliked
bloodshed and carnage for mere acquisition of territory; the
the leaders of neo-Brahminism whose philosophy is elaborately
developed by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita.
The Mahabharata War proved a turning point in the history
of India. It ended the last hope of rescuing the Great Revolu-
tion brought about by the rationalist-materialist doctrines; it
dealt the severest blow at progress and guaranteed the revival
of Brahminism with its faith in transcendental power. In the
titanic clash, the core of the progressive forces and the elite of
the kshatriya class were destroyed; the country could never
again rise to those heights of culture it had scaled in the days
gone by.
As opponents of the Vedas and patrons of heterodoxy brave
kshatriyas were counted by the orthodox Brahmins as thorns in
their side. So when prospects of internecine war between the
two warrior clans of the Pandavas and the Kauravas brightened
the Brahmins fished in the troubled waters. All kshatriya kings
of North India, with the bare exception of the Kashmir raja,
were involved in the war and this, the shrewed Brahmins must
have calculated, would prove the most effective way of annihi-
lating the still-struggling revolutionary forces and thereby
rendering neo-Brahminism an absolute and unchallengeable
power.
The dialogue between Arjuna and Sri Krishna which is
contained in the Bhagavad Gita took place on the fateful
occasion when the big armies were arrayed on either side of
the battlefield ready to strike. By having chosen an appro-
priate time and venue for the holding of the dialogue, the
author of the holy poem deliberately or unconsciously brought
renown to it which has not been enjoyed by any other literary
work, profane or sacred, produced before or after it in India.
Another master stroke of the author is in selection of the
two characters who discussed the issues which were exercising
the minds of intellectuals during the age when Buddhism was
on decline and neo- Brahminism raising its head. The dialogue
is not, as it would ordinarily have been, between a kshatriya
and a Brahmin or between a Buddhist and non-Buddhist. Both
Arjuna and Sri Krishna belong to different clans of the kshatriya
the former, though not a convinced rationalist-materialist, is
yet plagued by lingering scepticism and seems to entertain
hazy doubts about the usefulness of the changes that are
taking place at the waning influence of Buddhism. Like
thousands of other Hindu intellectuals, disturbing questions
arise in his mind which need to be answered before he can
fully reconcile himself to the change. Sri Krishna is a spirit-
ually defeated kshatriya who is completely converted to the
faith of neo-Brahminism and is, indeed, presented as the staun-
chest protagonist of the creed. But, as explained earlier,
Brahminism has not remained what it was in pre -Buddhist days.
If it is to dominate the Indian society, Brahminism must under-
go further modifications and without discarding its cardinal
principles, present a complexion that may be acceptable to the
wavering intellectuals like Arjuna. Sri Krishna has fully realised
this position.
In the period of frustration, helplessness and disorder which
followed the decline of Buddhism, morality was at a low ebb;
human values like truthfulness, generosity, charity and pity
were underrated, even fellow-feeling, affection for kinsmen
and respect for elders were set at naught. Power, pelf and
glory at any cost had become the life’s aim. Everywhere there
was scramble for them. This was abhorrent to those who still
cherished lofty ideals and entertained regard for moral princi-
ples taught by Buddhism. But to those bent upon squeezing
revolutionary forces out of existence, nothing was sacred and
no weapon objectionable for use to achieve selfish aims. If to
gain an end one had to wade through rivers of blood, be it of one’s
own kith and kin, the gruesome game had to be played and the
ghastly drama enacted; a devotee at the shrine of neo-Brah-
minism should have no hesitation to be the actor. Only the
callous and merciless deeds would have to be rationalised and
philosophically explained as noble and sublime.
On the historic battlefield of Kurukshetra, when the armies
o.t the Pandavas commanded by Bhima with their allies on one
Side, and the forces of the Kauravas headed by Bhishma with
th .
~Ir Supporters on the other, were ready to cross swords,
~I~ce Arj~na, addressing his charioteer, Sri Krishna, asked a
v;ta t qu~~tlOn in simple, unvarnished language which gives a
cthue 0 Iks. noble character and human intentions. “Seeing
ese my IllSme 0 K .
n, nshna, arrayed and eager to fight”, he
spoke in deep anguish, “my limbs fail and my mouth is
parched, my body quivers and my hair stand on end, (my)
gandiva (bow) slips from my hand, and my skin boils all over.
I am not able to stand and my mind is whirling. I see
adverse omens, 0 Keshava, I cannot foresee any advantage
from slaying my kinsmen in the battle; I desire no victory, nor
kingdom, nor pleasure. What is kingdom to us, what enjoyment
or even life; for those for whose sake we desire kingdom,
enjoyment and pleasures, they stand here in battle abandoning
life and riches.”!
Continuing in the same strain Arjuna goes on to say:
“Among those arrayed on the battlefield are teachers,
fathers, sons as well as grandfathers, brothers, mothers
fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law and other rela-
tives. These I do not wish to kill, though myself slain, 0
Madhusudana, even for the sake of the kingship of the
worlds, how then (can I want them killed) for gaining the
earth? Slaying these sons of Dhritarashtra, what pleasure
can be ours, 0 Janardana? Killing these desperadoes,
sin will surely take hold of us. Therefore we should not
kill the sons of Dhritarashtra, our relatives; for how can
we be happy after killing our kinsmen, 0 Madhava ?
Although these (sons of Dhritarashtra) with intelligence
overpowered by greed, see no guilt in the destruction of a
family, no crime in hostility towards friends, why should
not we learn to turn away from such a sin, 0 Janardana,
who see evil in the destruction of a family”?2
Explaining the latter part of Arjuna’s anguish, Dr. S. Radha-
krishnan comments: “They (the Kauravas) are striken blind by
greed and have no understanding but we are guilty of the
wrong. Even if we assume that they are guilty of selfish
passion and greed, it is a wrong to slay them and it is a greater
wrong because they who are blinded by passion are unconscious
of the guilt they are committing, but our eyes are open and we
see that it is a sin to slay.”3
The simple but impressive and moving statement of Arjuna
describes natural and spontaneous reactions of a decent mind
to the horrors of bloodshed, holocaust and war in general.
Though a warrior-prince deprived of his legitimate inheritance,
he abhorred violence and was reluctant to seek power and terri-
tory by slaying kinsmen, friends, relatives and multitudes of
other innocent human beings. Is it worthwhile or any the
least laudable to achieve power by such heinous means? he
asks. There is neither sense nor reason behind it. The
argument that the enemy (sons of King Dhritarashtra) are
prepared to kill their kinsmen and other innocent warriors and
have no qualms in doing so does not appeal to Arjuna as a
defence for reacting in a similar savage manner. A man of
culture should not submit to unreason like his uncivilized
opponent and become guilty, he asserts. That way human
misery cannot be ended. One who is intelligent and virtuous
and knows what is morally right should follow the straight path
irrespective of what the opposite party choses to do.
This method of formulating the issue confronting the
kshatriyas shows that Arjuna was not fully convinced of the
righteousness of neo-Brahmin philosophy and continued to
labour, however slightly, under the influence of the Samkhya-
based Buddhism. Arjuna had raised the weighty point which
must have been in the minds of innumerable intellectuals who
were hesitant to accept neo-Brahminism, though they had lost
faith in revolutionary Buddhism. Arjuna’s question has, as
we shall see, echoed and re-echoed through the corridors of
Indian history till the modern times without getting the right –
repJy.
Had Arjuna confined his statement to the expression of
human and rational reactions he had to the impending disaster,
he would have Jeft no room for Sri Krishna to inflict a moralis-
ing discourse on him. Arjuna’s position would have been
unassailable and possibly other means than the war would have
been adopted to seek a compromise between the Pandavas and
the Kauravas to settle the territorial dispute. In that case
Arjuna would have come down in Indian history as a great
humanist thinker. But his mind had already been poisoned
by t~e iIl.-winds of counter-revolution. He betrayed a weak-
ness III hIS stand by expression of solicitude for Brahmin rituals
Wh:~ he carried the argument further by observing:
. r.n the destruction of the family the immemorial family

tra rttons perish ad’ h . hi f di . I
n 111 t e pens mg 0 tra itions awlessness
overcomes the wh 1 c. il O’ d .
o e lam! y. wing to pre ommance of

lawlessness 0 Krishna, the women of the family become
corrupt; when women are corrupted, 0 Varshneya, (Krishna)
there ariseth caste confusion. This confusion draggeth to hell
the slayers of the family and family (itself). For deprived of their
offerings of rice balls and water the spirits of their ancestors fall.
By such caste confusing misdeeds of the slayers of the family,
the everlasting caste laws and family customs are destroyed.
The abode of the men whose family customs are extinguished
is everlastingly in hell. Therefore, alas, we are engaged in
committing a great sin in endeavouring to kill our kindred
from greed to kingship. If the sons of Dhritarashtra, weapon
in hand, should slay me, unresisting unarmed, in the battle,
that would be better for me.”4
From these words of agony it is clear that the mind of
Arjuna is not exercised so much by the distressing thought of
shedding innocent blood as by corruption of caste, destruction
of family customs, stoppage of liberation and rice balls to dead
ancestors, and abolition of Vedic rituals in general which had
been devalued in the Buddhist age but were revived by the
rise of neo-Brahminism. Though Arjuna was pleading for
preservation of human values like peace at any cost, non-
violence, nobility, forgiveness, generosity, unselfishness and
unilateral liberalism, he felt, as a matter of fact, more distressed
at the violation of Brahmin dogmas, traditions and rituals.
The divided mind became an unbearable burden and, over-
borne by grief, Arjuna, casting away his bow and arrow, sank
down in his seat in the chariot. The Pandava Prince was over-
come by pity, his eyes were filled with tears and his mind was
much depressed and troubled. The sharp-witted Sri Krishna
lost no time in seizing’ upon the mental perturbation of the
Prince and without touching the cogent points raised by him
tickled Arjuna’s vanity by addressing him thus: ‘Whence
has this ignoble, infamous, heaven-closing dejection befallen
you. Yield not to impotence, it does not befit you. Cast
off this paltry faint-heartedness, 0 Parantapa (Arjuna), and
stand up.”5
Sri Krishna’s gentle and affectionate admonition demorali-
sed the confused intellectual and exposed the fact of his having

been affected by the change of the time. Arjuna frankly
admits his bewilderment:
“I do not know which for us is better, that we conquer
them or they conquer us. Those whom having slain, we
should not care to live, even these, the sons of Dhritarashtra,
are arrayed against us. My heart is weighed down with the
weakness of pity. With my mind bewildered about my duty,
I ask thee. Tell me for certain which is better. I am thy
pupil; teach me, who am seeking refuge in thee. I do not
see what will drive away this sorrow that withers up my
senses, even I should attain rich and unrivalled kingdom or
even the sovereignty of the gods.”6
The acuteness of Arjuna’s anguish born of the indecisiveness
of his mind is tersely reported by Sanjaya, the recorder of the
dialogue. He says; “Having thus addressed Hrishikesha
(Krishna) the mighty Gudakesha (Arjuna) said to Govinda
(Krishna) I will not fight and became silent.”?
On the one hand, Arjuna acknowledged Sri Krishna, the
exponent of neo-Brahminism, as his guru and sought refuge in
him, on the other, he tenaciously struck to the resolve of refrai-
ning from fighting the senseless war which he had made inde-
pendently guided by reason and a sense of human responsi-
bility. Comments Dr. Radhakrishnan; “Arjuna without
waiting for the advice of the teacher, seems to have made up
his mind. While he asks the teacher to advice him, his mind
is not open. The task of the teacher becomes more difficult.”8
Did the teacher succeed in removing the mental confusion
of his pupil by relieving him of indecisiveness and by fully
converting him to neo-Brahmin creed? We shall have closely
to examine this point of vital significance in the following
chapters. At the end of the dialogue Arjuna says his doubts
have vanished but a critical study of the Gita would make one
wonder if this is correct. For not only his volley of questions
throughout the dialogue betray his persistent confusion, but
at the end also, in a mood of utter resignation, he accepts to
do as commanded by Sri Krishna and not as he would have
done of his own accord.

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