BZ text: chap 12: The Skilful Mentor

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The Skilful Mentor

THE social malaise generated by the defeat of the Buddhist

Revolution gave rise to several knotty problems which the
author of the Bhagavad-Gita was called upon to solve. In the
dialogues between Arjuna and Sri Krishna these problems are
brought up one by one and dexterously tackled with the main
purpose of mopping up the surviving revolutionary elements in
the country.

The first and foremost problem was the firm determination
of Arjuna not to fight; it had to be weakened and the prince
persuaded to participate in the war and be instrumental in emas-
culating the kshatriya warrior class. The second problem was the
challenge of the materialists and atheists who, though beaten,
were still struggling to reassert themselves. It had to be met by
reestablishing the SUpremacy of Brahmin dogmas and beliefs.
The third problem was born of the dissatisfaction and sullenness
of the toiling masses and labouring intellectuals who refused to
work and resorted to non-cooperation by renunciation on a
large scale in order to escape the tyrannies and exploitation by
the upper castes. There were other problems less important
when compared with these three, but by no means trifling such
as restoration of the authority of the shastras (scriptures),
sanctity of rituals and dignity of caste. To all these adequate
attention was paid at the proper place and time in the course

of the discussions in a way that they did not grate upon the

The author of the Gita like all Brahmin thinkers of the
age, realized that the root of the ills lay in the general accept-
ance of the doctrines of Rationalism. As stated earlier the
Samkhya was the dominant philosophy even after the decline
of Buddhism. The Shanti Parvan of the Mahabharata records:
“There is no knowledge equal to Samkhya nor power equal to

So long as the people continued to have faith in the
Samkhya the future of neo-Brahminism could not be bright.
But, unlike Badrayana, the author of the Gita, Dvaipayana
Vyasa, did not bend his energy to refute the Samkhya and
thereby assert the infallibility of theism. He opened his sermon
with unqualified appreciation of the Samkhya and even at times
questioned the superiority of the Vedas.

Vyasa must have seen that by making a frontal attack on
the Samkhya Badrayana had achieved no particular success
because the materialist theory of Prakriti had struck deep roots
in the Indian soil; it was therefore foolish, even hazardous,
to denounce it outright. Though the author of the Gita
acknowledges his debt to Badrayana’s Brahma Sutras which he
calls “well reasoned and conclusive expressions”2 he does not
follow the latter at any rate in the earlier part of the dialogues,
in refuting rationalist-materialist theories. An altogether new
line of approach has been adopted in the Gita to undermine
the forces of irreligion and profanity. The Samkhya is owned
and praised but distorted and presented in a form as to make
it. substantially similar to the Vedanta and, indeed, indisting-
uishable from it.

. Admitting that Arjuna was speaking words of wisdom, but
WIthout answering his cogent and clearly stated objection
ag~inst ~articipation in the war, Sri Krishna affectionately
chides him for feeling depressed: “Wise men do not grieve
for the dead or for the living, stresses the Blessed Lord.”3

. Totally ignoring the issues raised by Arjuna, Sri Krishna
Jumps h~dlo~g i~to the river of mystic philosophy and theism.
He ~xplallls III brief what he calls the Samkhya, leaving its
details for a later discourse. The burden of Sri Krishna’s
eloquent thesis is that “the soul is eternal, indestructible and
immeasurable while the body is finite.”4 Since that is so.
Arjuna should not, emphasises Sri Krishna, grieve over the
impending carnage and slaughter of his kith and
kin: “Even if thou thinkest that the self is perpetually
born and perpetually dies (reference is probably to the plurality
of souls in heterodox thought), even then, 0 mighty-armed
(Arjuna), thou should not grieve.”5 Therefore, learn to endure
agony and anguish. “Contact of senses with their objects, 0
son of Kunti (Arjuna), gives rise to cold and heat, pleasure
and pain. They come and go and not last for ever.?” The
killing in the war may be excruciatingly painful but the feelings
will not be lasting; therefore this is no reason to shirk from
Now though this may be a philosophy of life, it is certainly
not what Kapila taught or other Samkhya teachers maintained.
Even Dr Radhakrishnan has to admit: “The teacher explains
in brief in verses 11-38 the wisdom of the Samkhya philosophy.
The Samkhya does not refer to Kapila’s system but to the
teachings of the Upanishads.”? Why should then either Sri
Krishna or Dr Radhakrishnan call it the Samkhya and not the
Vedanta passes one’s comprehension.
Be that as it may, Sri Krishna felt that even spurious
Samkhya was not readily acceptable to Arjuna; therefore the
great teacher of neo-Brahminism next resorted to rather
unspiritual method of provoking caste pride and inborn
longing for power of the kshatriya prince. Sri Krishna
remonstrates: “Looking to your own duty thou should not
tremble, for there is nothing more welcome to kshatriya than
righteous war. The kshatriya who obtains such a fight
unsought like an open door to heaven should be happy. If,
however, you will not carryon this righteous warfare, then
having cast away your own duty and your honour you will
incur sin.”8 Sri Krishna proceeds: “Other men will recount
your perpetual dishonour and to one highly esteemed dishonour
exceeds death. The great cart-warriors will think that you fled
from the battle from fear, and you who was highly thought of
by them, will be lightly held. Many unseemly words slander-
ing your strength will be spoken by your enemies. What
should be more painful than that; (on the other hand) if you
are slain you will obtain heaven but if you are victorious you
will enjoy the earth.”?
Apart from the fact whether any war can be righteous,
Sri Krishna fails to meet Arjuna’s point that it is unworthy of
a decent human being to enjoy even the rulership of the whole
world after shedding blood of near relations and friends besides
thousands of innocent warriors. Simply put, Arjuna’s question
is: Should political rights get precedence over demands of
humanity? This remains unanswered by Sri Krishna and
Arjuna stands unmoved.
Next the great teacher gives a discourse on Yoga to tempt
the disciple because, as Sri Krishna says, “in this there is no
loss of effort, nor is there transgression. Even a little of this
knowledge (of Yoga) protects-from great fear.”1o The Yoga of
the Gita, however, does not mean Patanjali Yoga, as pointed
out by Dr. Radhakrishnan. Sri Krishna interprets it in a
manner as to support the philosophy of non-dualism. It is
the Yoga of knowledge.H And what is the essence of that
knowledge? Says Sri Krishna: “Thy business is with action
only, never with its fruits; so let not the fruit of action be thy
motive, nor be thou to inaction attached. Dwelling in union
with the divine, 0 winner of wealth (Arjuna), renouncing
attachments and balanced evenly in success and failure;
equilibrium is called Yoga.”12
To make his conception of Yoga acceptable, Sri Krishna
accords a high place to it by even undervaluing the Vedas:
“When thy mind bewildered by the Vedic texts shall stand
unshaken, then shall thou attain Yoga. “13 Such a clever
approach made a dent in Arjuna’s stubborn stand. Forgetting
the basic issue raised by himself, which led to the dialogue,
th~ Pandava Prince started asking for clarification of the
philosophy propounded by Sri Krishna. He asks: “What the
mark of him who is stable of mind, steadfast in contemplation,
o Keshava (Krishna)? How doth the stable-minded talk,
how. d~t~ .he sit, how walk ?”14 What relevance has this question
to hIS initial objection to fight? one is tempted to ask. With
the. rigidity on the part of Arjuna beginning to melt, Sri
Krishna puts across for the first time the idea of personal God
which is the heart of the Gita philosophy. He asserts: “0
Arjuna, the excited senses of even a wise man, though he be
striving, impetuously carry away his mind. Having restrained
them he should sit harmonised, I his supreme goal; for whose
senses are mastered of him the understanding is well poised.”15

Sri Krishna’s logic is hardly convincing. On the one hand
he frequently urges Arjuna to rise, fight and gain his kingdom,
on the other, he affirms that “he who abandons all desires and
acts free from longing, without any sense of meanness or
egotism, attains to peace.”16 The Pandava Prince sharply
reacts to the contradictory statements and asks: “If thou
deemest that (the path of) understanding is more excellent
than (the path of) action why then do you urge me to do this
savage deed ?17 Such utterances of Sri Krishna have further
“confused and bewildered Arjuna’s intelligence and he wants
to be told decisively what is the thing by which he can attain
the highest goOd.”lB Again disregarding the question of war
and peace pointedly raised by Arjuna, Sri Krishna gives a
different direction to the talk and tries to show that there is no
difference between the Samkhya and the Yoga or, in other
words, that jnana (wisdom) is not incompatible with karma
(action). The greatest emphasis is laid on the importance and
desirability of activity; the Yoga is made to excel the Samkhya
and belong to remote antiquity. When Sri Krishna claims to
have lived and taught this philosophy of Yoga in ancient times,
the rationalist Arjuna expresses astonishment which makes the
former to expound the theory of avataras (incarnations of God).
Delineating the theory Sri Krishna now praises wisdom (know-
ledge): “As the fire which is kindled turns its fuel to ashes, 0
Arjuna, even so does fire of wisdom turn to ashes all action.”19

This vacillation on the part of Sri Krishna in alternately
declaring knowledge and action to be superior, causes con-
fusion to Arjuna and he protests: “Thou praisest, 0 Krishna,
the renunciation of works (by knowledge) and again their
unselfish performance. Tell me for certain which one is the
better of the two ?20 Unable to know his own mind or un-
willing to take sides, Sri Krishna declares that “performance
of works is better than their renunciation,”21 but, soon after,
he asseverates that “it is ignorant people who speak of
renunciation (Samkhya) and practice of works (Yoga) as
different, not the wise. He who sees that the ways of renuncia-
tion and of action are one he (truly) sees.”22 Sri Krishna takes
this opportunity to elaborate the philosophy of work without
attachment which is considered to be the greatest contribution
of the Bhagavad-Gita to perennial philosophy: “He who does
the work which he ought to do without seeking its fruit he is
the sanyasin, he is the yogin not he who does not light the
sacred fire, and performs no rites. “23
Whether or not the long expositions of the new-fangled
theories allayed the doubts and removed the confusion in the
mind of Arjuna is debatable but it is safe to say that from
having his feet firmly set on real earth he was flown, by Sri
Krishna’s tactics, into the unreal atmosphere of mysticism;
for his ejaculations and questions no longer pertain to human
problems of social justice and rational morality, they are from
now onwards about the other world and the Eternal: “I see
no stable foundation for Yoga on account of restlessness”24 ;
“mind is very fickle, it is impetuous, strong and obstinate, it
is difficult to control as the wind,”25 “he who cannot himself
though he has faith, with the mind wandering away from Yoga
failing to attain perfection in Yoga, what way does he g026,
“does he not perish like a rent cloud, fallen from both, and
without any hold and bewildered in the path that leads to the
Eternal ?”
Hearing such questions Sri Krishna must have chuckled and
when Arjuna asked further: “what is Brahman? What is the
Self and what is action? What is said to be the domain of
(he elements and what is the domain of the gods”27 the great
teacher must have felt pleased at the success of his own skill
~d art of persuasion. For Arjuna had ceased to talk about
~pending wanton bloodshed, revolting selfishness and shame-

u . massacre of kith and kin. The Pandava Prince’s stubborn
attttu.de had flagged and he was now more interested in Yogic
pra~tlces and abstract theories of religion than in the welfare of
At this stage S . K .
n nshna throws away the garb of man,
assumes odhood a d h di . I ho i .
f n encourages t e ISCIP e, w 0 IS now III
roper rame of .
mInd, to proceed further on the path of
religion. The mentor takes him into confidence: “To thee,
who does not cavil, I shall declare this profound secret of
wisdom combined with knowledge by knowing when thou
shalt be released frorri evil. This is sovereign knowledge,
sovereign secret, supreme sanctity, known by direct experience,
in accord with the law, very easy to practise and imperishable.”28
The supreme secret is, however, no other than exaltation of
God and importance of reposing complete faith in Him for
ultimate deliverance: “Fix thy mind on Me; to Me be
devoted; worship Me; revere Me, thus having disciplined
thyself, with Me as thy goal, to Me shalt thou come. “29

The arrow hits the mark; the critic in Arjuna is
vanquished; he acknowledges defeat: “Thou art the Supreme
Brahman, the Supreme Abode and the Supreme Purifier, the
Eternal, Divine person, the first of the gods, the Unborn, the
All-pervading. I hold as true all this that thou sa yest to me. “30
Arjuna only wants to know the various aspects of the Blessed
Lord in which He may be thought of.31 Sri Krishna obliges
the disciple by giving a long list of things in which God is
manifested but though Arjuna acknowledges again that by “the
discourse concerning self”, and “the supreme mystery”
revealed to him his bewilderment is gone, yet he desires to see
“the divine form of the Blessed Lord, the Imperishable Self.”32

Fully convinced that Arjuna’s imagination is excited to the
highest pitch enabling him to have the wildest of wild hall-
ucinations, Sri Krishna describes the fantasy of Vishwarupa
(World Appearance) and directs him to see things as desired
by the Blessed Lord. But reason and fantasy ill go together and
any element of reason in Arjuna will prevent him from indulg-
ing in fantasy. Sri Krishna says: thou canst not behold Me
with this (rational or human) eye of yours; I will therefore
bestow on thee the (imaginative) eye. Behold my divine

Deprived of the critical, reasoning faculty and having been
worked into a state of mental frenzy, Arjuna saw shuddering
and horrifying pictures through his imagination, and ex-
When I see thee touching the sky, blazing with many
hues, with the mouth opened wide, and large glowing
eyes, my inmost soul trembles in fear and I find neither
steadiness nor peace, 0 Vishnu (Krishna).
When I see thy mouths terrible with their tusks, like
Time’s devouring flames, I lose sense of the directions
and find no peace. Be gracious 0, Lord of gods, Refuge
of the worlds.s+

Frightened and spiritually crushed by these hideous scenes,
Arjuna pays unqualified tributes to the Supreme Self in the
form of Sri Krishna:

“Prostrate in front of thee, prostrate behind, prostrate
on every side of Thee, boundless in power and immeasur-
able in might. Thou dost penetrate all and therefore
thou art all.”35 “Thou art the father of the world, of the
moving and the unmoving. Thou art the object of its
worship and its venerable teacher. None is equal to
thee; how then could there be one greater than thee in
the three worlds, 0 thou of incomparable greatness.”36
Sri Krishna is not slow in accepfing submission and
immediately puts the subdued critic under obligation:

“By My grace thou hast seen, 0 Arjuna this loftiest form,
luminous, universal, infinite and primal which none but
thee has seen before. Neither by the Vedas, nor by
sacrifices nor by study nor by gifts nor by ceremonial
rites can I with this form be seen in the world of men by
anyone else but thee. “37

The real purpose of hypnotising the Pandava Prince is to
shatter his iron will against fighting and participating in the
impending war. Therefore, Sri Krishna pointedly draws the
attention of Arjuna to that aspect of the Vishwarupa (World
Appearance) :

“Tim~ am I world-destroying grown mature, engaged
ber.e in subduing the world. Even without thee (thy

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