BZ text: chap 17: Stand Up and fight

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Stand up and Fight
SHRI Krishna opens his sermon with an exhortation that
Arjuna should give up faint-heartedness and stand up and
fight ;1 he also ends the discourse by warning the Pandava
Prince that it will prove futile on his part to desist from fighting
because nature will constrain him to do so.2
The is commonly accepted by the Hindus as a philosophy of
peace, non-violence, non-attachment, love happiness and toleran-
ce. Throughout the dialogue, Sri Krishna dwells on these human
values and stresses the need for cultivating them to achieve final
liberation (moksha) from the cycle of rebirths: “Who forsaketh
all desires and goeth onwards free from yearnings, selfless and
without egoism-he goeth to peace.”3 “He who is able to
endure here on earth ere he be liberated from the body, the
force born from desire and passion, he is harmonised, he is
the happy man.”4 “He who is happy within, who rejoiceth
within, who is illuminated within, that yogi becoming the
Eternal goeth to the Peace of the Eternal.”5
Speaking about the noble qualities of a devotee, Sri
Krishna says: “He who beareth no ill-will to any being, frien-
dly and compassionate, without rattachment and egoism,
balanced in pleasure and pain and forgiving, ever content,
harmonious, with the self controlled, resolute, with mind and
Reason dedicated to Me, he, My, devotee, is dear to Me.”6
Enumerating the divine properties of the believers, Sri
Krishna includes non-violence, truth, peacefulness, compassion
to living beings, forgiveness, absence of envy and pride among
them. At the same time. harshness and anger are described as
demoniacal properties. Scholars have therefore been at a loss
to understand why Sri Krishna should have so persistently and
vigorously urged Arjuna to abandon his resolve of opposing
the war and take up arms which was bound to end-and in fact
ended-in enormous bloodshed and wholesale destruction.
The inconsistent teachings of Sri Krishna puzzled Arjuna
and he put the pertinent question that if peace, non-violence
and love of all beings be the cherished values of human life,
why should the Divine Mentor instigate the Pandava Prince to
participate in the impending carnage. The Blessed Lord
parries the query and takes up another topic for exposition
keeping poor Arjuna guessing and the future students of the
Gita to answer it for themselves.
Brahmin philosophers and orthodox commentators have,
with arguments, plausible and implausible, tried to show that
there is no inconsistency in the teachings of Sri Krishna, at
any rate so far as the issue of war and peace is concerned.
Mahatma Gandhi concedes that “a literal interpretation of the
Gita lands one in a sea of contradictions” but defends the
thesis of the poem by asserting:
“I do not agree that the Gita advocates and teaches
violence in any part of it. See the concluding discourse
at the end of chapter two. Although that chapter lends
itself to a violent interpretation, the concluding verses
seem to me to preclude any such intrepretationf
But critical scholars are far from being convinced by the sophis-
try of Gita-lovers. There, however, can be little doubt that if
Sri Krishna, the apostle of peace and non-violence, was dislod-
ging Arjuna from his position of stiff opposition to war and
preparing him to become a full-blooded combatant some
strong motive must have prompted him to do so. At the
conclusion of every serious discussion of a mythological or
philosophical theme, Sri Krishna significantly reverts to the
question of Arjuna’s reluctance to fight and advises him to
change his mind.
Chiding Arjuna at the outset for his dejection it! the hour
of crisis which is “unknown to men of noble mind” because “it
causes disgrace” and “does not lead to heaven”, Sri Krishna
says; “Yield not to this unmanliness, 0 Partha, for it does
not become thee. Cast off this petty faint-heartedness and
arise, 0 oppressor of foes.’•9
Without caring a jot to meet Arjuna’s points against fight-
ing, Sri Krishna brings to his support the ancient Brahmin
belief about soul and body: “It is said that these bodies of
the eternal embodied (soul) which is indestructible and incom-
prehensible, come to an end. Therefore, fight 0 Bharata
The orthodox defenders argue that in the first place Sri
Krishna was asking Arjuna to fight in order to discharge his
duty as a kshatriya and, secondly, from a higher philosophical
plane, killing of bodies is immaterial because the soul is in-
destructible ; therefore the apparent inconsistency in the state-
ments of Sri Krishna should not be considered as serious. But
to Sri Krishna any plea this-worldly or other-woredly divine or
human, is equally usable to provoke Arjuna into getting
engaged in war. It is remarkable how the Blessed Lord who
repeatedly insists on non-possession (aparigraha) excites caste
pride of the Pandava Prince and allures him with power, fame
and wealth to fight. Sri Krishna pleads :
“Having regard for thine own duty, thou shouldst not falter;
there exists no greater good for a kshatriya than a battle
enjoined by duty. Happy are the kshatriyas, 0 Partha
(Arjuna) when such a war comes of its own accord as an
open door to heaven. But if thou does not this lawful
battle, then thou wilt fail thy duty and glory and
incur sin. Besides, men will ever recount thy ill-fame
and for one who has been honoured, ill-fame is worse
than death. The great warriors will think that thou
hast abstained from battle through fear and they by whom
thou wast highly esteemed will make light of thee. Many
unseemly words will be uttered by thy enemies, slander-
ing thy strength. Could anything be sadder than that?
Either slain thou shall go to heaven, or victorious thou
shall enjoy earth; therefore arise, 0 son of Kunti, resol-
ved on battle.”ll
This reasoning may be contrary to the central teaching of
the Gita as hinted by Dr. Radhakrishnants, but Sri Krishna
is more interested in shaking Arjuna from his resolve by any
means than in establishing his reputation for being a logical
disputant. However, he soon reverts to the religious argu-
ment and instead of persuasion employs mild threats and

“Resigning all thy actions to Me, with thy consciousness
fixed in the Self, being free from desire and egoism and
from mental fever, engage in battle. (Those) who abide
ever in this teaching of Mine full of faith and free from
cavilling, they too are released from actions. (Those)
who carp at my teaching and act not thereon, senseless,
deluded in all knowledge, know thou these mindless ones
as fated to be destroyed. “13

Arjuna seems not to have been very much impressed by
such minatory exhortations of Sri Krishna who is, however,
untiring in his mission and is determined to convert the prince.
The opportunity arrives when Arjuna betrays his infirmity of
mind by entertaining wild hallucinations and illusions about
the all-pervading manifestation of God (Vishwarup darshan).
Sri Krishna combines religious emotion with worldly interest
to carry his point at the critical moment while Arjuna passes
through the delirium. He says:

“Time am I, world destroying, grown mature, engaged
here in subduing the world. Even without thee (thy
action), all the warriors standing arrayed in the opposing
armies shall cease to be. Therefore arise thou and gain
glory. Conquering thy foes, enjoy a prosperous kingdom.
By Me alone are they slain already. Be thou merely the
occasion, 0 Savyaschina (Arjuna). Slay Drona,
Bhishma, Jayadratha, Karna and other great warriors as
well, who are already doomed by Me. Be not afraid,
Fight, thou shall conquer thy enemies in battle.”14

We shall have occasion to consider the dangerous impli-
cations of this sermon, miscalled philosophy, but here it will
suffice to point out the keen anxiety of Sri Krishna to get
Arjuna involved in war.
Frightened and shuddering no doubt by the hallucination
of all-pervading Divinity, Arjuna with joined palms acknow-
ledges the supremacy of Sri Krishna and offers hundreds of
apologies for lapses on his part; but there is not a word in
his statement of submission to show that his opposition to war
has ended and he is ready to fight. Nevertheless the prince is
now in a more chastened mood and receptive frame of mind
and so Sri Krishna brings home the consequences of disobe-
dience to God.
“Thinking on Me, thou shalt overcome all obstacles by My
grace; but if from egoism thou wilt not listen, thou shalt be
destroyed utterly. Entrenched in egoism, thou thinkest ‘I will
not fight’ ; to no purpose thy determination; nature will con-
strain thee.”15
It was beyond the moral capacity of the initially bewildered
and now utterly exhausted and spiritually broken Arjuna to
unendingly continue resisting the temptations and the threats
of the God; only a convinced rationalist could have done so.
The Pandava Prince finally succumbed and owned defeat. He
said; “Destroyed is my delusion. 1 have gained knowledge
through Thy grace, 0 Immutable one. I am firm, my doubts
have fled away. I will do according to Thy word.”16
Whether Arjuna made this declaration under moral coercion
or with honest conviction it is difficult to say. Significantly,
there is no word about his desire to fight in his statement of
surrender. Perhaps that is implied in the last sentence.
Sri Krishna’s involvement in the Mahabharata War did not
end with his successful persuasion to induce Arjuna to fight
and slay redoubtable warriors, prominent heroes and noble
sires in the enemy ranks. The Yadava Chief displayed zeal
when the gigantic clash was in progress. Sri Krishna had taken
a vow not to engage in battle personally and not to become
a partisan. He gave his word to limit his function to serving
as charioteer of Arjuna. But as the war took a turn for the
Worse from Pandava viewpoint, the Blessed Lord failed to
restrain himself and as pointed out by Kosambi “at every
single crisis of the war, his (Krishna’s) advice wins the day
by the crookedest of means which ‘could never have occurred
to others. “17
Why was Sri Krishna, apostle of truth, non-violence and
peace, keenly interested in seeing the bloody war through and
the noblest kshatriyas of India killed by any means fair or
foul? The Hindu thinkers have had no desire to explain this
glaring contradiction in the teaching of the Gita because they
would not like to admit a detestable fact. As in the case of
other inconsistencies in the Blessed Lord’s teachings, they have
tried to show that at higher levels of religious experience
white is black and black is white and so it is only in the think-
ing of petty-minded and ignorant people that the contradic-
tion exists, not in the utterances of the God. The fact, how-
ever, is that the astute leader of the rising Brahmin counter
revolution rightly guessed that the Mahabharata War would
produce far-reaching consequences conducive to his mission.
Although Buddhism was in a process of decline and the
forces of social revolution had almost been spent up neo-
Brahminism was far from having become secure when the
Gita was composed. As explained earlier the kshatriyas as a
class were supporters of social progress and instrumental in
shattering sacerdotal supremacy. To what straits the kshatriya
revolt had reduced the Brahmins is described by Bhandarkar :
“For the four centuries before that (that is to say from
300 B.C. to 100 A.D.) no Brahmin, no Brahmin temple,
no Brahmin God, no sacrifice, no ritualistic act of any
kind is ever, even once, referred to (in the Sanskrit
literature). There is a very large number of gifts recor-
ded as given by kings, princes and chiefs, by merchants,
goldsmiths, artisans and ordinary householders; but no
one of them is given in support of anything or any
opinion, divinity or practice with which the Brahmins
had anything to do.”
At another place Bhandarkar adds:
“The period that we have been speaking of (that is from
the beginning of the second century B.C. to the end of
the fourth century after Christ) has left no trace of
building or sculpture devoted to the use of Brahmin
religion. Of course Brahminism existed; and it was
probably during the period, being developed into the
form which it assumed in later times. But their religion
certainly does not occupy a prominent position, and
Buddhism was followed by the large mass of the people
from princes down to the humble workmen.”18
Since this plight of Brahminism was the outcome of the
movement spearheaded by kshatriyas, Sri Krishna rightly
judged that without reducing the unity and strength of the
warrior caste to minimum neo-Brahminism could neither be
secure nor stable. The Mahabharata War calculated to serve
that end thus became a consuming passion of the Blessed Lord.
There is evidence to believe that the still surviving rationa-
list forces aware of the ruin that the War would spell to the
Indian society, were opposed to it. But their voice WaS feeble
and the unfortunate acute rivalry between different kshatriya
clans coupled with absence of wise statesmanship in them,
afforded opportunity to staunch missionaries of neo- Brah-
minism like Sri Krishna to fan the fires of enmity and hatred
with the result that the war broke out and the disaster over-
took India. The cream of the kshatriyas manhood was slaugh-
tered on the battlefield.
The Mahabharata War has proved a turning point in the
Indian history. It left indelible scars on the social life of the
people. While it gave the final victory to Brahmin reaction
and put it on the highest pedastal from which no power has
been able to dislodge it till this day the forces of progress and
social revolution were crushed.
At the close of the War, when the triumphant Pandavas
returned to their capital after achieving the pyrrhic victory,
they were received significantly not by their own clansmen and
the families of warriors who were drowned in gloom and
grief, not by traders and agriculturists, but by multitudes of
rejoicing Brahmins. Among the spectators was a follower of
Charvak. He moved in front and, rebuking Yudhishthira,
asked : “What have you gained by destroying your own people
and murdering your own elders? This assembly of the
Brahmins is cursing you for you have killed your kin.” The
unexpected outburst of a rationalist and an atheist, amidst
rejoicings, stunned the admiring audience. Yudhishthira, cut to
the quick, felt deeply hurt and humiliated and wanted to
die but the Brahmins assured him that the Charvaka was only
a demon in disguise. As reported in the Mahabharata the
dissenting rationalist was caught hold of and burnt to ashes on
the spot.U’
But the aims set by Sri Krishna had been achieved: the
War reversed the social order, the forces of revolution were
smothered and the exalted position of the Brahmins was resto-
red. Even before the effects of the gigantic clash were fully
realized no less a person than Bhishma, the doyen of the vanqui-
shed kshatriya clan, issued an injunction from his death-bed
advising the victorious Pandava King Yudhishthira :
“A King, to be virtuous, must gi ve to Brahmins offerings.
Such offerings are more meritorious than Ashvamedha
(Horse Sacrifice). The kshatriya goes to heaven as
recompense of this virtue. Land should be given to
Brahmins and gods. It is unpardonable to take away
land from the Brahmins. Don’t punish a Brahmin even
by mistake for he is superior to all men. Fire is born of
water, kshatriya of Brahmin and iron of stone. When
iron cuts stone, fire dries water and kshatriya becomes
enemy of Brahmin, they an lose their face and are destro-
yed. It is the duty of the king to punish those who claim
equality with the Brahmins.”2o

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