Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Arjuna’s surrender and advice on Athma.

Gita essays - 2 

In the first Chapter Arjuna was doing all the talking, trying to solve his problem of raga (attachment), moha (delusion) and soka (grief) and in the process delivering a long lecture on Dharma and Adharma, concluding it with his decision that he would not take up arms against Bhishma and Drona even if it meant death at the hands of the Kauravas and then sat down putting down the bows and arrows.  Lord Krishna had been silent  all along giving Arjuna a patient hearing like an expert management counsellor and now reacts with a sharp rebuke urging Arjuna to shed the unmanly behaviour and stand up to do his duty.  Then Arjuna comes up with his real problem of helplessness to solve the problem of inner weakness of raga, soka, and moha  and surrenders to Lord Krishna with these words (2-7):
कार्पण्यदोषोपहतस्वभावः पृच्छामि त्वां धर्मसंमूढचेताः। (Kaarpanyadoshopahataswabhaavah Pricchaami twaam dharmasammoodha chetaah;
यच्छ्रेयः स्यान्निश्चितं ब्रूहि तन्मे शिष्यस्तेऽहं शाधि मां त्वां प्रपन्नम् ।। (Yacchreyah syaan nishchitam broohi tanme Shishyaste’ham shaadhi maam twaam prapannam.)
My mind is overpowered by helplessness and my intellect is completely deluded regarding righteousness. With my mind thus confused, I ask You.  I am Your disciple who has surrendered to You.  Please teach me decisively what is good for me.

When Arjuna surrenders with these words, the roles get changed.  Arjuna is no longer the Yajamana and Sri Krishna an ordinary driver; Arjuna is now a humble disciple and Sri Krishna, the Jnani Guru.  And only after Arjuna’s realisation of his helplessness and surrender, Lord Krishna starts his advice in the course of which he gives the essence of Jnana kanda and Karma kanda of Vedas, which makes Bhagavad Gita one of the Prasthana thrayas, authoritative basic texts along with Upanishads and Brahma Sutras. This advice along with Arjuna’s reaction runs into 17 chapters in which in chapter 2 we get a brief introduction and in chapter 18 a short sum-up.

In chapter 2, after Arjuna’s surrender Lord Krishna starts his advice with feedback and sarcasm as well, as seen from the first verse of advice where he says “You speak words of great wisdom, but you forget that wise people do not grieve for either the dead and living and act the same way”(2-11).  He thus points out that Self-ignorance, Athma ajjnanam is the basis of his problem and so in the first phase of advice he imparts Athma-anathma vidya briefly, dealing with Arjuna’s problem from a philosophical angle and in that process starts explaining the nature of Athma, one’s Real Self. It is because of His advice based on AthmaJnanam, Self-knowledge, that  the chapter gets its title as Sankhya Yoga.  

One is not the physical body which is subject to changes as child, youth and old person and perishes ultimately in course of time but is the unchanging eternal Athma within which undergoes no change at any time when the body undergoes all the changes.  When the present body perishes, Athma acquires a new one and continues in it.  So as Athma, there was no time when all of us were not there in the past nor will it be in the future.  That is why a wise person, called Dheera, does not grieve over the death of the body which is always changing and is unreal, as only unreal things keep changing.  The Reality behind the unreal body is the unchanging Athma.  

What is the nature of this Athma?  Lord Krishna describes in verse 2-24:
अच्छेद्योऽयमदाह्योऽयमक्लेद्योऽशोष्य एव च।(Acchedyo’yam adaahyo’yam akledyo’shoshya eva cha)
नित्यः सर्वगतः स्थाणुरचलोऽयं सनातनः।। (Nityah sarvagatah sthaanur achalo’yam sanaatanah.)
This (Athma) cannot be cut, nor burnt, cannot be wetted, and cannot be dried. This is eternal, all-pervading, changeless, immovable, and unborn.

So weapons, fire, water, and wind do not affect it.  Therefore one who thinks of himself as the killer and the other as killed does not really know that He slays not nor the other is slain.  What happens at death is Athma casts off one body for another just as a person changes clothes, casting off old one to put on new one.  Further death is certain for the one born and also birth is certain for the dead.  Again the body is a combination of pancha bhuthas which are in a manifest state as body, only when body is alive and are in an unmanifest state before birth and after death. So Arjuna should not grieve over the inevitable and as a warrior in the battlefield, he should go ahead doing his duty of fighting as per his visesha dharma as a kshatriya, shedding his delusion and grief.  For Arjuna as a kshatriya it is his svadharma to fight a righteous war to establish Dharma and not to back out of it for his selfish or personal reasons. Only failure to fight such a battle is a sinful act and he will incur no sin acting in accordance with his visesha dharma; only in running away from it, he will incur sin.  So fighting, he will attain the heaven if killed, or if victorious, rule the world.  Lord Krishna also points out that even from a worldly angle, he should not run away from the battle as it will earn the ridicule of his peers as an act of fear and cowardice and this dishonour is worse than death for a kshatriya.

Now Lord Krishna concludes this phase of advice which was given from a philosophical and ethical angle with an important advice which is as well valid for all in the battle of life (2-38):
सुखदुःखे समे कृत्वा लाभालाभौ जयाजयौ।( Sukhaduhkhe same kritwaa laabhaalaabhau jayaajayau)
ततो युद्धाय युज्यस्व नैवं पापमवाप्स्यसि।(Tato yuddhaaya yujyaswa naivam paapamavaapsyasi.)
Treating happiness and sorrow, gain and loss, victory and defeat alike, engage in battle. This way you will not incur sin.

Lord Krishna here emphasises a quality of which he has spoken earlier.  This is the quality of equanimity, also called samatvam.  Samatvaṁ means balance of mind, ie to keep one’s cool in all situations without being carried away by the situation. Samatvam is also called Yoga, in the second phase of advice in this chapter, to be seen later.

The salient features of this phase of advice are:

1)    Athma is eternal and indestructible

2)    Bodies enveloping the Athma are ephemeral with a beginning and end

3)    Death is only for the body and it is certain for one born

4)    Embodied beings constantly pass through the cycle of birth and death and so wise do not grieve over death.

5)    As Athma is indestructible, one cannot slay nor get slain

6)    For a kshatriya not to fight a righteous war is only an act of sin and not fighting it

7)    Not to fight will only invite ridicule as coward and dishonour is worse than death for a kshatriya

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