The excerpts below are actually translations from his writings in Bengali. After his acquittal in the Alipore Conspiracy Case, Sri Aurobindo started a weekly in Bengali called Dharma and wrote most of the editorial comments and leading articles for it until his withdrawal to Chandernagore in February 1910. A brief history of these writings is here.
The Gita was spoken on the eve of the Great Mahabharata War. Therefore we find in the very first verse of the Gita, King Dhritarashtra seeking information about the War from Sanjaya who had received the gift of divine vision. The two armies are gathered on the battlefield; what are their first moves, this is what the old king is eager to know. In the eyes of the educated man in modern India, educated that is on the English pattern, Sanjaya’s gift of divine vision is no more than a poetic fancy. If we had said that such and such a person gifted with clairvoyance and clairaudience was able to present before his senses the frightful scenes and war-cries of the great heroes in a distant battlefield, then perhaps the statement would not have been so unworthy of credence. And one is inclined to dismiss as a still more absurd story that this power had been given to Sanjaya by the great Vyasa. Had we said that a famous European scientist having hypnotised such, and such a person came to have some description of that distant event from his mouth, then perhaps those who -have studied with care something about hypnotism in the West might have lent some credence. And yet, hypnotism is simply one of those undesirable elements of Yogic power that have to be rejected. There are hidden within man many such powers as were known to civilised peoples in ancient times and developed by them. But that knowledge has been washed away in the flood of ignorance born of Kali, the Age of Darkness, it has been preserved only in part within a limited circle as a secret lore that should be kept a secret.
There is a power of subtle vision beyond the gross physical sense organ, in a subtle organ through which we can bring within our ken objects and knowledge inaccessible to the gross organs of sense, can have vision of subtle things, can listen to subtle sounds, smell imperceptible smells, touch subtle physical objects, and have taste of subtle foods. The utmost development of subtle sight is what is called divine vision, through its power objects that are at a distance, secret objects or those belonging to another world come within the scope of our knowledge. We see no reason to disbelieve that the great sage Vyasa possessing supreme Yogic powers was capable of imparting this divine vision to San jay a. If we are not incredulous about the wonderful power of Western hypnosis, why should we be incredulous about the power of the great Vyasa with his incomparable knowledge? In every page of history and in every activity of human life there is available ample evidence that a powerful man can impart his power to another. Heroic men of action like Napoleon and Ito prepared collaborators in their work by imparting their own power to fit recipients. Even a very ordinary Yogin having obtained some special power can impart his power to another for a little while or for a special purpose, what to speak of the great Vyasa who was the world’s most accomplished genius and a man of extraordinary Yogic realisation.
In fact, the existence of this divine vision far from being an absurdity must be a scientific truth. We know that the eye does not see, it is not the ear that hears nor the nose that smells, the skin does not experience the sense of touch nor the tongue the feeling of taste; it is the mind that sees, the mind that hears, smells, feels the sense of touch or taste. This truth has been accepted by philosophy and psychology for a long time. In hypnotism it has been proved by practical scientific tests that the function of the organ of sight can be performed by any of the sensory nerves even when the eyes are shut. This goes only to prove that the gross organs of sense like the eye are simply convenient means for the acquisition of knowledge. We have become their slaves bound by a long habit of the gross physical body. But in reality we can convey the knowledge to the mind through any of the channels in the body, as the blind can get by the touch an accurate idea of the nature and shape of things.
But this difference may be noticed between the blind man’s “sight” and that of a man in a state of dream, namely, that the latter sees an image of the thing in his mind. This precisely is what is called seeing. In actual fact, I do not see the book in front of me, it is on seeing the image of the book reflected within my eyes that the mind says, “I have seen a book”. But this too is proved by the seeing and hearing of a distant object or event by one in a dream-state that in order to obtain a knowledge of an object there is no necessity for any of the physical channels in the body; we can see through a subtle power of vision. Every day there are growing in number such examples as seeing mentally from a room in London events taking place at the time in Edinburgh. This is what is called subtle sight.
There is this difference between subtle sight and divine vision that one possessing subtle sight sees the image of things invisible in his mind, whereas in divine vision, instead of seeing the things in our mind, we see them in front of the physical eye, instead of hearing the sounds as a current of thought we hear them with the physical ear. A simple instance of this is the seeing of contemporary events in a crystal or ink. But for a Yogi endowed with divine vision there is no need of such material aids, he can on developing this power become aware of events-in another time and space by removing the bondage of space and time without any material aid. We have obtained enough evidence of this removal of the barrier of space; numerous and satisfactory proofs that the barrier of time too can be removed, that man can be a seer of the past, present and future have not yet been presented before the world. But if it is possible to remove the space barrier, it cannot be said that to remove the barrier of time is impossible.
In any case, with the divine vision given him by Vyasa, Sanjaya while remaining in Hastinapur saw with his eyes as if he were standing in the battlefield of Kurukshetra the partisans of Dhritarashtra and the Pandavas gathered there, heard with his ears the words of Duryodhana, the fierce battle-cry of grandfather Bhishma, the mighty sound ofPanchajanya proclaiming the destruction of the Kurus, and the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna bringing out the import of the Gita.
In our opinion, the Mahabharata is not a metaphorical piece nor are Krishna and Arjuna the creations of poetic fancy, the Gita too is not the speculation of a modern logician or philosopher. Therefore we have to prove that anything said in the Gita is not impossible or against reason. It is for this reason that we have discussed at such length the question of possessing the divine vision.
THE CUNNING OF DURYODHANA’S SPEECH
Sanjaya began his description of those initial acts of war. Duryodhana on seeing the battle formations of the Pandavas presented himself before Dronacharya. Why he went to Drona needs an explanation. Bhishma was the commander-in-chief, it was he who should have been informed of matters concerning the war. But Duryodhana with his crooked mind had no faith in Bhishma. Bhishma had a fondness for the Pandavas, was the leader of the peace-party in Hastinapur. Had it been only a war between the Pandavas and Dhritarashtra’s sons, he would never have taken up arms. But on seeing the Kuru kingdom threatened by the Panchala nation the old enemy of the Kurus and their equal in the greed for empire, the most outstanding personality, warrior and statesman of the Kuru nation was determined to preserve till the end the glory and the supremacy of his own people by being appointed their commander-in-chief, even as he had guarded them for long with the strength of his arms. Duryodhana on his part was of an Asuric nature, to him the measure and motive of all acts were the feelings of attraction and repulsion, hence he was incapable of understanding the point of view of the great man and his devotion to duty. He could never believe that this man of hard austerity carried in his heart the strength to kill in the battlefield out of a sense of duty even the Pandavas who were to him as if his own self. One who has the good of his country at heart tries his utmost to make his people desist from injustice and evil by expressing his views in council, but once the injustice and the evil are accepted by the people he defends his nation and subdues its enemies even in unrighteous war without caring for his own personal opinions. Bhishma too had taken this line. But this attitude was beyond Duryodhana’s comprehension. Therefore instead of approaching Bhishma he thought of Drona.
Drona personally was a staunch enemy of the Panchala king, prince Dhristadyumna of the Panchalas was determined to kill his preceptor Drona. In other words, Duryodhana thought that if reminded of this personal enmity the teacher would give up all leanings towards peace and fight with an enthusiasm. He did not say this in so many words. He only mentioned Dhristadyumna by name, then in order to please Bhishma as well, described the latter as the defender of the Kuru kingdom and the hope of their victory. First he mentioned the names of the principal fighters among the enemy, then he uttered the names of some and not all of the commanders in his army; the names of Bhishma and Drona alone were enough for the success of his scheme, but he added four or five other names to hide his true purpose. Then he said,
“My army is enormously big, Bhishma is my commander-in-chief, the Pandava army is comparatively small, their hopes centre round the strength of Bhima. Therefore why should not victory be ours? But as Bhishma is our mainstay, it devolves on everybody to protect him from enemy assaults. If he is there our victory is inevitable.”
Duryodhana had a comparatively bigger army, the commanders of his troops were not inferior to any in courage or prowess. Why should the boastful Duryodhana go out of the way to create misgivings by deprecating his own strength?.
Bhishma understood the secret motive behind Duryodhana’s words and the ideas he had in his mind; to remove his doubts he uttered the battle-cry and sounded his conch- shell. This gave rise to joy in the heart of Duryodhana. He thought that his object had been met, Drona and Bhishma would give up their hesitation and fight.
THE FIRST HINTS
As soon as the battlefield was shaken by the heaven-splitting sound of Bhishma’s conch, there sounded on all sides of the huge Kaurava host the instruments of war music and the men in their chariots began to feel elated by the excitement of battle. On the other side, the greatest hero of the Pandavas and his charioteer Sri Krishna sounded their conchs as an answer to Bhishma’s call to the fray, and Yudhisthira and the other heroes on the Pandava side awakened the war-lust in the hearts of their troops by blowing their own conchs. That mighty report resounded over earth and sky as if rending the hearts of Dhritarashtra’s sons. This does not mean that it frightened men like Bhishma. They were heroic men, why should they be afraid of the fierce call to battle? In these words the poet has described the first powerful impact on the body of extremely high-pitched sound; just as the clap of thunder makes the hearer feel as if it were rending his head in two exactly alike was the impact of this mighty report spreading over the field of battle. And this was as if an announcement of the impending doom of Dhritarashtra’s men; the hearts that would be pierced by the Pandava missiles were rent asunder first by the sound of Pandava conchs.
The war began. Missiles began to fly from both sides. At this juncture Arjuna said to Sri Krishna,
“You please place my chariot at a point between the two armies. I wish to see who are our antagonists, who are they who have come to this war to act according to the pleasure of the misguided Duryodhana, who are those with whom I have to fight.”
Arjuna’s idea was that the Pandavas centred their hopes on him alone and it was for him to kill the principal fighters on the opposite side, therefore he must see who these were. So far, Arjuna’s attitude was entirely that of a Kshatriya, there is not a sign of pity or weakness. Many of India’s most heroic men were present in the opposing army; Arjuna was keen on giving to elder brother Yudhisthira undisputed empire by killing them all. But Sri Krishna knew that Arjuna harboured a weakness in his mind; if this mind were not cleansed now, that weakness might suddenly come up from there and occupy the higher intelligence at any moment and this would cause great harm to the Pandavas, perhaps even lead to their ruin.
For this reason, Sri Krishna placed the chariot in such a place that those dear to Arjuna, like Bhishma and Drona, were just in front and at the same time all the other princes on the side of the Kauravas were within sight. And he said to Arjuna, “See and have a look at the Kuru clan gathered here.” It has to be recalled that Arjuna himself belonged to the Kuru clan, was a pride of the Kuru family; all his relatives, the men dear to him, the companions of his childhood belonged to the same Kuru clan; that will make one realise the profound idea and significance of these few ordinary words from Sri Krishna’s mouth. Arjuna could now see that those whom he has to kill in order to found the undisputed empire of Yudhisthira were none other than his own dear relatives, teachers, friends, the objects of love and devotion. He saw that the Kshatriya families of the whole of India were bound together by ties of affection and yet had come to that terrible field of battle to kill one another.
THE ROOT CAUSE OF DEJECTION
What is the source of Arjuna’s dejection? Many people are full of praise for this dejection of Arjuna and decry Sri Krishna as a supporter Of unrighteousness and as showing the wrong path. The peaceful attitude of Christianity, the non-violence of Buddhism and the spirit of love in Vaishnava religion are alone the highest and best laws of right living, war and the killing of men are sins, the killing of one’s brothers and teachers are grievous sins: it is under the spell of ideas such as these that they make this improper statement. But all these modern ideas never even entered the mind of the great Pandava hero of that remote Dwapara epoch; there is in Arjuna’s words no inkling of any signs that he even considered whether non-violence was to be preferred to war, or whether one should desist from war because the killing of brothers and teachers or homicide in general were grievous sins. He did indeed say that it would be better to live by begging than to slaughter one’s elders, he said indeed that the sin of killing the relatives and friends would fall on them. But he said these words not from a consideration of the nature of these works, but by judging them by the results. That is why in order to break his gloom, Sri Krishna taught him this lesson that one should not look to the fruit of works, one has to decide whether a particular act is right or wrong by looking into its nature.
Arjuna’s first thoughts were that these were his relatives, elders, friends, companions of childhood, all were the objects of his affection, love or devotion; to obtain undisputed empire by slaughtering them and the enjoyment of such empire could never be a source of pleasure, on the contrary one would burn with life-long repentance and sorrow, for nobody would care to have dominion over earth bereft of all friends and kin.
His second idea was that to kill the dear ones was against the right law of living, to kill in battle those who were the objects of enmity was the law of the Kshatriya.
His third point was that to perform such acts, to gain one’s own ends was against the right law and improper for a Kshatriya; and the fourth was that this antagonism and slaughter of brothers would lead to the destruction of clans and ruin of nations; to be the occasion for such untoward results was a grievous sin for a Kshatriya hero, the protector of the clan and nation.
Apart from these four notions, there was none other behind the despondency of Arjuna. Not to understand this is to miss the purport of Sri Krishna’s teaching and his aim. We shall speak later of the conflict or harmony between the Gita’s law and that of Christianity, Buddhism and Vaishnavism. Here we shall elucidate Arjuna’s attitude of mind by looking into the purport of his words by a careful scrutiny.
INVASION OF THE DIVINE MAYA
Arjuna first describes the state of his dejection. By the sudden revolt of affection and self-pity, the mighty hero Arjuna is overwhelmed and vanquished. All the strength of his body has dried up in a moment, his limbs have grown weary, he has no power to move about, his strong arm is incapable of holding the Gandiva bow. The sensation of heat produced by grief exhibits the signs of fever. The body feels weak, the skin is burning as if in flames, the mouth has dried up within, the body trembles violently all over, the mind is as if whirling under that attack. On reading the description of this state, we are at first satisfied only by enjoying its poetic beauty and regard it as an inordinate expression of the poet’s imaginative power. But on looking at it with scrutiny, a deeper meaning of this description comes to mind.
Arjuna has fought the Kurus before this, but such ideas have never occurred to him. Now, at Krishna’s will, suddenly there is this inner disturbance. There are lying hidden within Arjuna’s heart many of the most powerful instincts of mankind dominated and restrained by his Kshatriya training and high ambition. The heart is not purified by repression, the purification comes through self-control with the help of discrimination and a purified understanding. All the repressed instincts and feelings come up someday from the heart, either in this life or in another, invade the understanding and on winning it overdrive all action along paths favourable to their own self-expression.
This is the reason why one who in this life is full of kindness becomes cruel in another life, one who in this life is a vicious, lustful man becomes pure and saintly in the next. Instead of repression, the impulses have to be rejected with the help of the discrimination and a purified understanding; this is how the heart can be purified. This is what is called self-control. Self-control becomes impossible until the tamasic feelings are discarded through the influence of knowledge.
That is why Sri Krishna is wanting to purify the heart by removing the ignorance and awakening the dormant power of discrimination. But if the undesirable movements are not raised up from the heart and presented before the understanding the latter does not get a chance to reject them. Besides, it is only through a struggle that the inner enemies, the Daityas and Rakshasas, are killed and then the discrimination makes the understanding free.
In the first stages of Yoga, all the evil propensities that have taken root in the heart invade the understanding with great force and overwhelm the unwary seeker with fear and grief. This is what is known in the West as the temptations of the devil, these are the attacks of Mara, the Evil One. But the fear and the grief are the products of ignorance, the temptation is not of the devil but of God. The World-Teacher dwelling within us calls on those propensities to attack the aspirant, not for doing harm but for his good, for the purification of the heart.
Just as Sri Krishna in his physical body and in the visible world is the friend and charioteer of Arjuna, so he is within him the formless Godhead and the indwelling Lord. It is he who threw with great force the hidden movements and feelings all at once upon the understanding. At that terrific blow, the understanding lost its balance and the acute mental disturbance was revealed instantly through-the symptoms in the physical body described by the poet. We know that an acute unexpected grief or pain manifests thus in the body, this is not beyond the common experience of mankind.
Arjuna was overwhelmed in a moment by the divine Maya of the Lord with its entire force, hence this acute disturbance. When evil takes on the guise of tender feelings like love and kindness, when ignorance comes masquerading as knowledge, when the thick darkness of the Tamasic mode pretends to a bright and clear purity and says, “I am Sattwic, I am knowledge, I am virtue, I am the cherished messenger of God, I am virtue incarnate, I come to establish the reign of Law”, then it is to be understood that the divine Maya of the Lord has shown itself in the understanding.
THE SIGNS OF THE DIVINE MAYA
The main weapons of this divine Maya are affection and pity. In the human race, love and affection are impure movements; owing to distortions produced by the body and the vital sheath the purity of the love and compassion is tarnished and deformed. The inner movements have their seats in the basic mind-stuff (citta), the vital being (prāna) is the field of enjoyment, the body is the instrument of action, the understanding (buddhi) is the domain of thought. In a state of purity, all of these have their separate and yet mutually uncontradictory movements.
Ideas and feelings arise in the mind, action takes place accordingly through the body, in the understanding there are thoughts in that connection, the vital being takes the pleasure of those feelings, action and thought, the soul (jiva) remains a witness and feels joy in looking on this delightful play of the outer nature (prakrti). In the impure state, the vital becoming eager for; physical or mental pleasure makes the body a means of enjoyment, the body becomes attached to enjoyment and clamours again and again for physical pleasures, the mind becomes engrossed with the desire for physical enjoyment and can no longer accept pure ideas and feelings, impure ideas and feelings stained with desire create disturbances in the mind-ocean, the understanding is overwhelmed and perplexed by that clamour of desires and is no longer capable of receiving pure and calm infallible thought, comes under the control of the unquiet mind-stuff and becomes blinded by delusions, confused thinking and the power of falsehood. The soul too forfeits its Knowledge through this failure of the understanding, is deprived of the poise of witness and its sense of pure delight; it accepts its identity with the outer man, and under the mistaken notion that “I am the life-being, I am the citta, I am the understanding”, it takes pleasure and feels pain in mental or physical pain and pleasure. It is the unpurifiedcitta that lies at the root of this confusion, hence the purification of cittais the first step to progress. This state of impurity does not stop with spoiling the tamasic and rajasic movements alone, it pollutes the sattwic movements as well.
Such and such a person provides material for my physical and mental enjoyment, he pleases me, I must have him and no other, I feel unhappy in his absence—all this is impure love, it is a distortion of pure love through a pollution of the mind, body and life. As a result of this impurity, the understanding becomes confused: it says, “Such and such is my wife or brother or sister, relative, friend or close companion, they alone should be the objects of love, that love is sacred, if I act contrary to that love, it is sin, it is cruelty, it is unlawful.” This kind of impure love gives rise to such a strong sense of pity that it seems preferable to throw overboard the law of right living rather than let the dear ones be aggrieved or harmed. In the end, we come to justify our weaknesses by calling the law of right living an injustice because it deals a blow to this sense of pity. The proof of this kind of Divine Maya can be had in every word of Arjuna.
THE LITTLENESS OF DIVINE MAYA
The first words of Arjuna are,
“These are our own people, they are our kin and objects of our love, what good of ours will be served by killing them in battle? The pride of the victor, the glory of kingship, the rich man’s joy? I do not wish for all these hollow selfish ends. Why do kingship and enjoyment and life become dear to men? All these pleasures and greatnesses are tempting things because there are the wives and sons and daughters, because these will enable us to maintain in comfort our dear ones and relatives, because we shall be able to share our days with friends in the joy and comfort of wealth. But the very persons for whom we want kingship and enjoyment and pleasure have come as our foes in war. They would much rather kill us in battle than share the kingship and pleasure together with us. Let them kill me, but I can never kill them. Could I obtain possession of the kingdom of the three worlds, by killing them, even then I would not do it; undisputed empire on earth is a mere trifle.”
A superficial observer, enchanted with the words,
न काङ्क्षे विजयं कृष्ण न च राज्यं सुखानि च ( hear this )
एतान्न हन्तुमिच्छामि घ्नतोऽपि मधुसूदन ( hear this )
अपि त्रैलोक्यराज्यस्य हेतोः किं नु महीकृते. ( hear this )
“Oh, how noble and high, how unselfish an attitude on the part of Arjuna, how full of love! To him defeat, death and eternal suffering are more desirable than an enjoyment and pleasure tainted with blood.”
But if we examine Arjuna’s state of mind, we come to know that this attitude of his is extremely mean, a sign of weakness, fit only for a coward. To give up one’s personal interests for the benefit of the clan, for the love of dear ones, under the influence of pity or for fear of bloodshed may be a high and noble attitude for one who is not an Aryan man; but for an Aryan, it is not the best attitude, to give up one’s interests for the sake of the right and for the love of God is the highest attitude. On the other hand, to give up the right law of living for the benefit of the clan, for the love of dear ones, under the influence of pity, for fear of bloodshed is the worst attitude. To keep the feelings of affection, pity and fear under control for the sake of the right law and for love of God is the true Aryan way. In order to defend this low attitude of mind, Arjuna says again pointing to the sin of killing one’s kin,
“What pleasure, what satisfaction of mind can be ours by the killing of Dhritarashtra’s sons? They are our friends, our kith and kin. Even if they commit injustices and act as our enemies, rob us of our kingdom, break their promises, to kill them would bring us sin, will not give us happiness.”
Arjuna had forgotten that he was fighting a righteous war, was engaged by Sri Krishna in the slaughter of Dhritarashtra’s sons not for his own happiness or for the happiness of Yudhishthira; the object of this war was to establish the rule of law, the fulfilment of the Kshatriya’s duties, the founding of a great empire in India based on the law of right living. To achieve these ends by forsaking all happiness, even by undergoing life-long suffering and pain was Arjuna’s duty.
THE QUESTION OF THE RUIN OF CLANS
But Arjuna finds another, a nobler argument in support of his weakness.
“This war will lead to the ruin of clans and nations, therefore this war is not a righteous war but an unrighteous war. This fratricide implies an animosity towards friends; that is, it means doing harm to those who are naturally in our favour and help us. Moreover, it will lead to the destruction of that clan of ours, that is, the Kshatriya family and clan-nation named Kuru from which both sides have sprung.”
In ancient times, the nation was frequently based on blood-relationships. A large clan when it expanded grew into a nation. For example, particular clans such as the Kurus and the Bhojas included within the Bharata nation became each a powerful nation. The internal strife and mutual wrong-doing within the clan were what Arjuna described as the animosity of friends. On the one hand, this kind of animosity is a heinous sin from the moral point of view; on the other hand, from the economic point of view, this great evil is the inevitable fruit of the deterioration of clans implied in such animosity. The proper observance of the old established laws of the clanisthe mainstay of its progress and continuity. The clan undergoes a downfall through a departure from the high ideals and a slackening of the disciplines which the ancestors have laid down and maintained with regard to the life of the householder and in the political field. These ideals and disciplines are maintained as long as the clan remains fortunate and strong. When it suffers deterioration and becomes weak, there is a slackening of the great ideals through the spread of tamasic ideas; as a result, evils like immorality and anarchy enter the clan, the women of the clan lose their virtue and the clan loses its purity, to the noble clan are born sons of persons of a low character and birth. In consequence of this cutting off of the ancestors from the true line of their progeny, the destroyers of the clan find themselves in hell. And through the spread of unrighteousness, the moral degradation following the admixture of castes, the pervasion of low qualities and because of anarchy and such other evils, the entire clan is ruined and becomes fit for hell. With the ruin of the clan, both the law of the nation and the law of the clan come to an end; by the law of the nation is meant the old established ideals and disciplines come down through the generations among the great collectivity of the nation formed of all the clans.
Arjuna thereupon threw up at the very moment of battle his Gandiva bow and sat down in the chariot, having proclaimed once again his initial decision and the resolution as to how he should act. In the last verse of this chapter, the poet has left a hint that Arjuna was determined to act in this un-Aryan manner unworthy of a Kshatriya because there had been a confusion in his understanding on account of grief.
THE KNOWLEDGE AND THE IGNORANCE
In Arjuna’s words about the ruin of clans, we find the trace of a very high and large idea; it is extremely important for the interpreter of the Gita to consider the serious question involved in that idea. On the other hand, if we look only for the spiritual significance of the Gita, if we make a complete break between the law of living propounded by the Gita and our national, domestic and personal, our mundane acts and ideals, we shall be denying the greatness and importance of that idea and that question, it will be to limit the universal application of the Gita’s law; Shankara and others who have interpreted the Gita were men of knowledge or devotion, other-worldly philosophers, intent on spiritual knowledge; they were content with seeking in the Gita and finding therein whatever knowledge or ideas that were important to them. Those who are at once men of knowledge, devotion and works are alone fit for the innermost teaching of the Gita. The speaker of the Gita, Sri Krishna, was a man of knowledge and works, the recipient of the Gita, Arjuna, was a devotee and man of action; it was in order to open his eye of knowledge that Sri Krishna propounded this teaching in Kurukshetra. A mighty political conflict was the occasion for the propagation of the Gita, its object was to induce Arjuna to fight as an agent and instrument for the carrying out of a great political purpose in this conflict, the battlefield itself was the venue of the teaching. Sri Krishna was a supreme fighter and master of political science, to establish the rule of law was the prime object of his life; Arjuna too was a Kshatriya prince, war and politics were works proper to his nature. How should it be possible to interpret the Gita by ignoring the purpose of the Gita, its speaker, the recipient of the knowledge, the reason for its propagation?
There are always present in human life its five principal supports: the individual, the family, the clan, the nation and the human collectivity. The law of right living is also based on these five supports. The object of that law is to reach God. There are two paths to reach God: to possess the knowledge and to conquer the Ignorance. Both are means to Self-knowledge and God-realisation. The path of the Knowledge is to reject this Creation full of Ignorance, though a manifestation of the Supreme, and to realise Sachchidananda or merge in the Supreme Self. The path of the Ignorance is to see the Self and God everywhere and to realise the Supreme Lord who is Knowledge, Power and Good incarnate, as friend and lord, teacher, father and mother, son and daughter, and servant, lover, husband and wife. Peace is the object of the Knowledge, love the object of the Ignorance. But the Divine Nature is made of both the Knowledge and the Ignorance. If we follow the path of the Knowledge alone, we shall realise the Supreme in his form of Knowledge; if we follow only the path of the Ignorance, we shall realise the Supreme in his form of Ignorance. He who can possess both the Knowledge and the Ignorance alone realises Vasudeva in his entirety; he crosses beyond the Knowledge and the Ignorance. Those who have reached the final goal of the Knowledge have possessed the Knowledge with the help of the Ignorance.
This great truth has beenrevealed in the Isha Upanishad in very clear terms, as follows:
He who knows That as both in one, the Knowledge and the Ignorance, by the Ignorance crosses beyond death and by the Knowledge enjoys Immortality.
The entire human race is progressing towards the Knowledge through its experience of the Ignorance; this is the true evolution. Those who are the best, the aspirant and the yogin, the man of knowledge and devotion, the doer of the Yoga of works, are in the vanguard of this march. They reach the far goal at a quick pace, they come back and make the human race hear the gospel, show it the path, distribute power. The incarnations and emanations of God come and make the path easy to tread, create favourable conditions, destroy the obstacles. To realise the Knowledge in the midst of the Ignorance, renunciation in the midst of enjoyment, the ascetic spirit while living in the world, all beings within the Self, the Self in all beings,—to have this realisation is the true knowledge. This precisely is the path laid down for the human race to march to its destination. The limitations of one’s self-knowledge are the main obstacles to progress; the identification of self with the body and the sense of egoism are root causes of those limitations; hence, to look upon others as one’s own self is the first step to progress. Man’s first preoccupation is with the individual, he is engrossed in his own individual bodily and mental progress, he devotes himself to his own body and mind, to their progress, enjoyment, and the development of their powers.
“I am the body, I am the mind and vital being; the aim of life and the highest condition of progress are to secure the strength and beauty and happiness of the body, swiftness and clarity and delight of the mind, prowess, enjoyment and cheerfulness of the vital being”
— This is the first egoistic form of knowledge in man. This too has a utility; it is after achieving the development and fullness of body, mind and life in the first instance that one should use that fully developed power in the service of others. That is why the ‘egoistic development of power is the first stage of human civilisation; the animal, the ogre, the demon and the titan, even the goblin find their play in human mind, action and character, express themselves through these.
Afterwards man widens his self-knowledge and begins to see others as his own self, learns to submerge his self-interest in the interests of others. At first, he looks upon his family as his own self, gives up his life for saving the lives of his wife and children, throws away his own happiness to secure the happiness of his wife and children. Thereafter, he comes to regard the clan as his self, gives up his life in order to save the clan, sacrifices himself, his children and his wife, throws away his own happiness and that of his wife and children. Afterwards, he considers the nation as his own self, gives up his life for the safety of his nation, sacrifices himself, his wife and children, his family and clan, even as the Rajput clans of Chitore sacrificed themselves repeatedly of their own accord for the safety of the entire Rajput nation; out of regard for the happiness and glory of the nation he throws away the happiness and glory of his clan, his wife and children and himself. Finally, he sees the entire human race as himself, gives up his life for the progress of the human race, sacrifices himself, his wife and children, his clan and nation, throws away for the happiness and progress of mankind, the happiness, glory and advancement of himself, his wife and children, his clan and nation. Thus to see others as one’s own self and to sacrifice himself and his happiness for the sake of others have been the main teachings of Buddhism and of Christianity which had Buddhism for its parent. The moral progress of Europe has been along these lines. The men of ancient Europe learnt to submerge the individual in the family, the family in the clan; the modern Europeans have learnt to submerge the clan in the nation, to submerge the nation in the human collectivity is considered by them as a difficult ideal – Thinkers like Tolstoy and supporters of the new ideal like the Socialist and the Anarchist parties are now anxious to put this ideal into practice. Europe has been able to move thus far. Europeans are devoted to the Ignorance, they are not aware of the true Knowledge. “Into a blind darkness they enter who follow after the Ignorance.”
In India, the sages have mastered both the Knowledge and the Ignorance. They know that apart from the five bases of the Ignorance, there is God who is the foundation of the Knowledge; unless we know Him, the Ignorance too is not known, cannot be mastered. Therefore, instead of seeing only others as self, they have seen God in others as within themselves, ātmavat paradehesu.
“I shall better myself, my betterment will lead to the betterment of my family; I shall help improve the family, with the improvement of the family the clan will be improved; I shall help advance the cause of the nation, the advancement of the nation will make for the advancement of the human race”
: this knowledge lies at the root of the Aryan social system and the Aryan discipline. Renunciation of personal self is for the Aryan a habit ingrained in his very bones—renunciation for the sake of the family, renunciation in the interests of the clan, the society, the human race, renunciation for God. The deficiencies or faults that are observed in our education are the results of certain historical causes. For instance, we see the nation as a part of society, we are used to submerge the interests of the individual and the family in those of the society, but the development of the political life of the nation was not accepted as a main element included in our law of right living. This teaching had to be imported from the West. Nevertheless, the teaching was there in our country itself, in our ancient education, in the Mahabharata, the Gita, in the history of Rajputana, in Ramdasa’s Dasabodha. We could not develop that teaching because of excessive devotion to the Knowledge, for fear of the Ignorance. Because of this fault, we were overcome by tamas,we deviated from the right law of national life, fell a prey to abject slavery, suffering and ignorance. We could not master the Ignorance, and were at the point of losing the Knowledge as well.
ततो भूय इव ते तमो य उ विद्यायां रताः |
SRI KRISHNA’S POLITICAL OBJECTIVES
The clan and the nation become differentiated in course of the gradual development of human society. That differentiation did not become so well-marked in ancient times in India or in other countries. A nation would grow out of the conglomeration of a few large clans. Each of these different clans either claimed descent from a common ancestor, or even though growing out of different families was accepted as born of a single ancestry through the establishment of friendly relations. The whole of India did not become a single big nation, but among the large nations that spread themselves all over the landthere prevailed a common civilisation, a common religion, a single language, Sanskrit, and relationships like those of marriage. From ancient times however there had been attempts at unification. Now it was the Kurus, now the Pancalas, sometimes the Kosalan, sometimes the Magadhan nation who held empire over the land as its chief or overlord. But the ancient tradition of the clans and their love of independence would create such powerful obstacles to unity that these attempts could never last for long. In India, this attempt towards unity, the effort at undisputed empire was counted among the acts of piety and the duties of a king. This movement towards unity had become so strong that even a powerful and turbulent Kshatriya like Sishupala the king of the Chedis agreed to take part in the founding of Yudhishthira’s empire.
To establish such a unity, empire or rule of law was Sri Krishna’s political objective. The Magadhan king Jarasandha had already made this attempt, but his power was founded on tyranny and unrighteousness, would, therefore, be short-lived. Hence Sri Krishna baffled that attempt by getting him killed at the hands of Bhima. The main obstacle to Sri Krishna’s work was the proud and powerful family of the Kurus. The Kuru people had for a long time been among the leading peoples of India. To what is called “hegemony”, that is, a position of pre-eminence and leadership among a number of independent peoples of equal status—to that the Kurus had an ancestral right. As long as the pride and power of this people remained intact, unity would never be established in India. Sri Krishna came to realise this. Therefore he was determined to destroy the Kuru people. But the Kuru people had a hereditary right to the empire of India; Sri Krishna did not forget this fact. To deprive one of his rightful due would be an act of unrighteousness, so he chose for appointment to the future position of emperor Yudhisthira who was legally the king and chief of the Kuru people.
Sri Krishna was supremely righteous; he did not out of affection attempt to set up his beloved clan of the Yadavas in place of the Kuru people even though capable of doing it; he did not nominate for that position his dearest friend Arjuna by ignoring the eldest born of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira. But there is possibility of harm in considering only the age or previous title. If Yudhishthira had been unrighteous, tyrannical or incapable, Sri Krishna would have been obliged to look for another candidate. Yudhishthira was as well fitted to be emperor by birth, rightful title, and the old established tradition of the land, as he was the proper claimant to that title by virtue of his qualities. There were many great and heroic kings more powerful and talented than him, but strength and talent alone do not give one a title to kingship. The king was to safeguard the rule of law, keep the subjects contented, protect the land. In the first two of these qualities, Yudhishthira had no peer; he was the son of the Lord of Righteousness, he was kind and just, he spoke the truth, he kept his truth, his acts were based on the truth, he was extremely dear to his subjects. The deficiency he had in the last of the requisite qualities mentioned, his heroic brothers Bhima and Arjuna were capable of making good. Contemporary India did not possess kings as powerful or men as heroic as the five Pandavas. Therefore, once the obstacle was removed by the killing of Jarasandha, King Yudhishthira on the advice of Sri Krishna performed the Rajasuya sacrifice in accordance with the ancient tradition of the land, and became its emperor.
Sri Krishna was a follower of the right lawand a master of the science of politics. If there was a possibility of carrying to fruition his great objective by working within the framework of the law of the land, its tradition, the rules of its society, then why should he deviate from that law, go against that tradition, break those rules? To bring about such revolutions in politics and society is harmful to the country. For this reason, he at first directed his attempts to gain his objective by maintaining the ancient tradition. But there was this defect in the ancient tradition of the land that even if the attempts made in accordance with it were successful, there was very little chance of the success being permanent.
One who had the advantage in military strength could no doubt become emperor by performing the Rajasuya sacrifice, but as soon as his descendant became weak the imperial crown slipped automatically from his head. Why should the powerful and heroic peoples who had come under the control of his father or grandfather accept the vassalage of the conqueror’s son or grandson? Not hereditary right but the Rajasuya sacrifice itself, that is, an extraordinary military strength was at the root of that empire, he alone who had the greatest strength would be emperor by performing the sacrifice. Hence there was no hope for the permanence of the empire, there could only be a temporary hegemony.
Another defect of this system was that the sudden augmentation of strength and the hegemony of the new emperor kindled the fire of jealousy in the hearts of the intolerant powerful Kshatriyas of the land so proud of their strength. “Why should he become the chief? why not ourselves?”—such thoughts could easily rise in their minds. This kind of jealousy on the part of Kshatriyas belonging to Yudhishthira’s own clan made them oppose him. The sons of his uncle taking advantage of this jealousy deprived him of his position and sent him to exile. The defect in the tradition of the land became manifest within a short while.
Sri Krishna was as much a master of political science as he was righteous. He would never draw back from altering a traditional method or rule if it was defective, harmful or unsuitable to the needs of the time. He was the principal revolutionist of the age. King Bhurisravas gave voice to the angry feeling of many contemporary Indians of the old school when he said while taking Sri Krishna to task, “Krishna or the Yadava clan which acts under his guidance never shrinks from acting against the right law or distorting it. Whoever acts on Krishna’s advice will surely fall into sin before long.” For, in the view of a conservative with his attachment to the old ways a novel venture is in itself a sin. Sri Krishna realised on Yudhishthira’s downfall—not realised but knew from the beginning, for he was God—that a custom suited to the Dwapara epoch should never be preserved in the Kali age.
Therefore, he made no further attempts on those lines; he followed the line of statecraft proper to Kali, with its emphasis on war and strife and directed his efforts towards making the future of empire free of obstacles by destroying the power of the insolent and proud Kshatriya race. He incited the Panchala people, ancient and equally powerful rivals of the Kurus to destroy the latter; all the other peoples who could be attracted out of hatred towards the Kurus, for the love of Yudhishthira or out of desire for unity and the rule of law were attracted to that side, and he got the preliminaries of war made ready. In the attempts that were made towards peace Sri Krishna had no faith. He knew that peace was not possible, even if it were made it could not last. Still, out of regard for the right law and from considerations of policy, he devoted himself to attempts at peace. There is no doubt that the Kurukshetra war was the result of Sri Krishna’s policy, and that to destroy the Kurus to destroy the power of the Kshatriyas, to establish an undisputed imperial authority and the unity of India were his objectives. The war that was fought in order to establish the rule of law was a righteous war. The God-appointed victor in that righteous war was the mighty warrior Arjuna driven by a divine Power. If Arjuna were to give up his arms, Sri Krishna’s labours would have come to nought, the unity of India could not be achieved, a great evil would soon have overtaken the future of the land.
FRATRICIDE AND THE RUIN OF CLANS
All the arguments of Arjuna were set forth with a view to the interests of the clan, thoughts about the good of the nation had been effaced from his mind by the force of personal affection. He had forgotten about the good of India in considering the good of the Kuru family,he was preparing to throw away the right law for fear of unrighteousness. We all know that to kill one’s brothers out of self-interest is a heinous sin. But it is a greater sin to be a party to bringing about a national calamity, to desist from doing good to one’s nation out of love for one’s brothers. If Arjuna gave up his arms, it would be a victory for unrighteousness, Duryodhana would become the paramount king of India and the leading man in the whole country, he would by his bad example put a stain on the national character and the code of behaviour of Kshatriya families, the strong and mighty Indian clans would turn to each other’s destruction under the impulse of jealousy, self-interest and love of antagonism, there would be no undisputed state power guided by the rule of law to unify, govern and keep the country well defended by a concentration of power. Under such conditions, that foreign invasion, which even at that time was preparing like a sea held by the dykes to come upon India and inundate it, would, arriving before its time, have destroyed the Aryan civilisation and rooted out all hopes of the future good of the world. The political upheaval that began in India two thousand years later on the fall of the empire set up by Sri Krishna and Arjuna would have commenced right then.
They say that the ills for fear of which Arjuna had raised those objections did actually come as a result of the Kurukshetra war. Fratricide, the ruin of clans, even the ruin of the peoples were the fruits of the Kurukshetra war. This war was the occasion for the onset of Kali. It is true, this war led to a terrible fratricide. The question arises: by what other means could the great objectives of Sri Krishna be met? Precisely for this reason did Sri Krishna, knowing well the futility of seeking peace, make considerable attempts to find a way to peace. Yudhishthira would have desisted from war had he got back even the five villages, if he could secure even that much space as a foothold, Sri Krishna could have established the rule of law. But Duryodhana was firmly determined not to give an iota of land without war. Where the future of the whole country depended on the results of war, it had been unrighteous to desist from the war because it would lead to fratricide. The good of the family had to be submerged in the good of the nation, the good of the world. Brotherly affection and attachment to family ties could not justify the ruin of millions of people, a sacrifice of the future happiness or the amelioration of suffering of millions of people; that too would lead to perdition of the individual and the clan.
That there was a ruin of the clans in the Kurukshetra war is also a fact. As a result of this war, the family of the Kurus of great might practically disappeared. But, if by the disappearance of the Kuru people the whole of India came to be saved, then the destruction of the Kurus meant not a loss but a gain.Just as there is the blind attachment to family ties, so is there a blind attachment to the clan. Not to say anything to our fellow-countrymen, not to oppose them, even though they may cause harm or be intent to kill, even though they cause the country’s ruination, they are brothers, objects of affection, they should be borne in silence: this kind of unrighteousness born of the Divine Maya that posing as the right law makes us fall from a true understanding is produced by the delusion of attachment to the clan. It is unrighteous to oppose or quarrel with a fellow-countryman without cause, from self-interest or in the absence of dire need or utility. But to bear in silence the mischiefs of a fellow-countryman who is determined to take the life of the common mother or to do her harm,— to tolerate this matricide or that harmful act would be a still greater sin.
When Sivaji set out to murder his countrymen who were partisans of the Mughals, if someone had said, “Lo! what is this you are doing? They are your own countrymen, bear up with them in silence. If the Mughals occupy the Maharashtra country, let them do it. If Maratha loves Maratha, that will be enough”—would not these words appear entirely ridiculous? When the Americans in order to abolish slavery created dissensions in the land and by starting a civil war took the lives of thousands of fellow-citizens, were they doing wrong? It may so happen that civil strife and the slaughter of fellow-citizens in battle are the only way to the good of the country and the good of the world. If it involves a danger of the ruination of clans, even then we cannot desist from effecting the good of the nation and the good of the world. Of course the problem becomes complicated if the good of the nation demands the preservation of the clan.
In the age of the Mahabharata, the nation-unit had not been established in India, everybody regarded the clan itself as the pivot of the human race. It was precisely because of this that men like Bhishma and Drona who were steeped in the old tradition fought against the Pandavas. They were aware that right was on the side of the Pandavas, they realised that to bind the whole of India round a single centre through the establishment of an empire was a necessity. But they also knew that the clan alone was the pivotal point of the nation and in it lay the foundation of the right law; to maintain the law and found a nation by destroying the clan was an impossibility. Arjuna too fell into that error. In this age, the nation is the foundation of the law, the pivot of human society. To preserve the nation is the primary duty of this age, to cause the ruin of the nation the great unforgivable sin. But there can possibly be the advent of an age when a great society of the nations can be established. At that time perhaps the world’s eminent men of knowledge and action would take up arms in defence of the nation, and on the other side Sri Krishna as a maker of revolutions would start a new Kurukshetra war and effect the good of the world.
THE POLITICAL RESULTS OF SRI KRISHNA’S WORK
Under the first impulse of pity, Arjuna had laid most emphasis on the ruin of clans, for on looking at that huge massing of troops thoughts of the clans and peoples automatically came to mind. We have said that concern about the good of the clan was natural to the Indian of that age, even as for the modern race of men thoughts about the good of the nation come naturally. But was it a baseless fear to suppose that the foundations of the nation would be destroyed on the ruin of the clans? There are many who say that what Arjuna had feared actually came to pass, that the Kurukshetra war was the root cause of the downfall of India and her long period of subjection, that great harm has been done to India by the disappearance of the powerful race of Kshatriyas and the weakening of the war-like spirit. A well-known lady (Translator’s Note: The reference here is probably to the late Mrs.Annie Besant and her Theosophical Society at Adyar, Madras.) of foreign extraction at whose sacred feet many Hindus are at the moment bowing their heads as disciples, has not hesitated to say that to make the path easy for the British to found their empire was the real object of God Himself incarnating on earth. We feel that those who speak in such irrelevant terms are finding fault with Sri Krishna’s policy without going deep into the matter and under the influence of wholly inconsequent political theories. These political theories are the contributions of foreigners and are the results of an un-Aryan way of thinking. The un-Aryan owes his strength to a titanic power, he knows of that power as the only foundation of freedom and national greatness.
National greatness cannot be founded solely on the strength of the Kshatriya, all the fourfold power of the four orders of society is the basis of that greatness. The sattwic power of the Brahmin keeps alive the rajasic Kshatriya power with its sweet elixir of knowledge, humility and thought for the good of others; the Kshatriya power gives protection to the power of the Brahmin. Brahmin power bereft of the strength of the Kshatriya is affected by tamasic attitudes and gives umbrage to the ignoble qualities of the Shudra; hence it is forbidden for a Brahmin to live in a country where there is no Kshatriya. If the race of Kshatriyas comes to an end, to create the Kshatriya anew is the first duty of the Brahmin. Kshatriya power bereft of the Brahmin’s strength turns into a violent uncontrollable titanism, turns at first to the destruction of others’ good, and finally destroys itself. The Roman poet was right when he said that the titans fall from the excess of their own strength and are utterly destroyed.
Sattwa should create Rajas, Rajas should protect Sattwa, should engage itself in sattwic works; that makes possible the good of the individual and the nation. If Sattwa engulfs Rajas or if Rajas engulfs Sattwa, the quality thus victorious is itself vanquished by the emergence of Tamas, there is a reign of the Tamasic mode. The Brahmin can never be king; if the Kshatriya is destroyed, the Shudra becomes king; the Brahmin becoming tamasic will distort knowledge out of greed for money and take to the service of the Shudra; spirituality will encourage inaction, will itself fade away and be the occasion for a fall from the right law. The subjection of a nation without Kshatriyas and run by the Shudra is inevitable. This is what has come to pass in India. While on the other hand it is possible that there is an influx of power and greatness from a temporary excitement under the influence of titanic power, yet the country soon begins to languish from weakness, inertia and the draining of strength, from rajasic indulgence, pride and the increase of selfishness the nation becomes unfit and cannot keep up its greatness, or else as a result of civil strife, immorality and tyranny the country breaks to pieces and becomes an easy prey to the enemy. The history of India and of Europe affords ample illustration of all these eventual results.
In the age of the Mahabharata the earth was groaning under the load of titanic power. Neither before nor after, was there in India such an outbreak of strong and powerful and violent Kshatriya power, but there was little chance of that terrible power being turned to good purpose. Those who were the vehicles of this power were all of them of an asuric nature, vanity and pride, selfishness and self-will were in their very bones. If Sri Krishna had not established the rule of law by destroying this power, then one or the other of the three types of results described above would certainly have happened; India would have fallen prematurely into the hands of the barbarian. It should be remembered, that the Kurukshetra war took place five thousand years ago; it was after two thousand five hundred years had elapsed that the first successful invasion of barbarians could reach up to the other side of the Indus.
The rule of law founded by Arjuna was therefore able to protect the country under the influence of a Kshatriya power inspired by that of the Brahmin. Even at that time there was in the country such an accumulation of Kshatriya power that a fraction of itself has kept the country alive for two thousand years. On the strength of that remaining Kshatriya power great men like Chandragupta, Pushyamitra, Samudragupta, Vikrama, Sangramasingha, Pratap, Rajasingha, Pratapaditya and Sivaji fought against the country’s misfortunes. Only the other day in the battle of Gujarat and on the funeral pyre of Lakshmibai was the last spark of that power extinguished; with that ended the good fruit and the virtue of Sri Krishna’s political work, there came the necessity of another full Incarnation for the saving of India and the world. That Incarnation has rekindled the vanished power of the Brahmin, that power will create the Kshatriya power. Sri Krishna did not extinguish the Kshatriya power of India in the blood-bath of Kurukshetra; on the contrary by destroying the titanic power he saved both the power of the Brahmin and the Kshatriya. It is true that by the slaughter of Kshatriya families drunk with the strength of the titan, he reduced to tatters the violence of rajasic strength. Such mighty revolutions, putting this kind of check on internecine strife by effacing it through acute suffering, the slaughter of violent Kshatriya clans is not always harmful. Civil strife saved the Roman aristocracy from the clutches of destruction, as the establishment of monarchy saved the huge empire of Rome from the clutches of premature death. In England, through the ruin of the aristocratic families in the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth were able to lay the foundations of modern England, a well defended nation and a powerful conqueror of the world. India too was saved in that manner by the war of Kurukshetra.
That India has undergone a downfall in the Kali age no one can deny. But God never descended on earth to bring about a downfall. The Incarnation is for saving the Law, the world and men. Particularly in the Kali age does God incarnate Himself in full. The reason is that in Kali there is the greatest danger of man’s downfall, there is a natural increase of unrighteousness. Therefore, in order to save mankind, destroy unrighteousness and establish the Right by barring the way of Kali, there are incarnations again and again in this age. When Sri Krishna incarnated, it was already time for the beginning of Kali’s reign. It was through fear of His advent that Kali could not set his feet on his own kingdom. It was through His grace that Parikshit could hold up the exercise of Kali’s sovereignty in his own age, by granting him five villages. From the beginning to the end of this Kali age, a fierce battle has been raging and will continue to rage between man and Kali. As helpers or leaders in that battle, the emanations and incarnations of God come down frequently during this period. God took on a human form at the opening of Kali in order to maintain the power of the Brahmin, the knowledge, devotion and desire-less works, and teach these things that they might be of use in that battle. On the safety of India rest the hope and foundation of man’s well-being. God saved India in Kurukshetra. In that ocean of blood, the Great Being in the form of Time the Destroyer began to take his delight in the sporting Lotus of a new world.