Chapter 2 - An Introduction
Bhagavad Gita is a war dialogue. But all the distinction Gita has gained is that it is a unique spiritual gospel, which exposes Jnana and Moksha, the supreme object of human pursuit, in a strikingly singular manner. And for this reason, it has received the supreme recognition from the ascetics and sanyasins of this land. In fact, Bhagavad Gita remains more a treasure for them than for any other kind of people. That Gita has gained a place as one of the texts constituting the Prasthana-traya which spiritual Knowers and seekers constantly read, adhere to and disseminate, speaks clearly about the loftiness and supremacy of the gospel.
How could the war field extend such an ideal setting to impart spiritual wisdom in an unprecedented manner?
The virtues that should adorn a seeker of truth are too well known. The primary among them is viveka, nitya-anitya-vastu-viveka as it is specifically called. A seeker must be able to distinguish between what is real (permanent) and what is unreal (impermanent). Such discrimination will take his vision away from the perishable world and lodge it firmly in its imperishable base. An adequate measure of vairagya (dispassion) also should follow such viveka. Dispassion denotes the abiding disinterest or distaste the seeker feels for the enjoyments, however great these may be, of this world as well as of the next. Such deep disinterestedness is not easy to find.
The visible world around us extends a rich variety of beauty, charm and promise. Initially the Vedas also speak eloquently of the higher worlds, including heaven, where allurements are even greater! The ceremonial means by which the higher worlds can be gained after death are also laid down by Vedic texts. Whether the promises and prospects are true or not, Vedic adherents develop strong desire to attain such higher worlds and resort relentlessly to the rituals said to gain these ends. The varied enjoyments of this world and the still better ones of the higher regions together delude the human mind, especially the religious adherents!
To become a Vedantic seeker and have the yearning for moksha and jnana, one has to grow utter disinterest towards these. In the absence of the primary qualities of viveka and vairagya, to speak or hear about the Supreme Reality will be in vain.
Arjuna had not cared to think of viveka and vairagya all the years of his life in the forest. He had to be only a valorous fighter resolved to uphold the righteous rule. Whatever austerities and denials this called for, he was eager to pursue. Untold courage, abiding love for mankind and indomitable will and fervour to further the conduct of righteous rule became his cherished vow. For this, he was ready to submit himself to any extent of privation and sacrifice. But he had never dreamt of becoming a seeker with marked display of dispassion.
It is the initial drive in the Kurukshetra war front that suddenly kindled in him a new response and resignation. Arjuna reacted to the development with his own sincerity and firmness. That he would not fight was the natural climax of his sudden dispassion and new yearning.
When the human mind grows intensely sincere, even the mute surroundings will rush to enrich and reward it. A rightful resolve cannot but win its destined fruition. When the valorous Arjuna posed as a full-fledged seeker, Krishna, the devout charioteer, also stood as the timely Instructor, a response and role the like of which our tradition had not witnessed. The war chariot readily became a veritable hermitage and the war field around transformed, as it were, into a dense huge forest, which remaining speechless, imbued the scene and its message with a splendour and magnificence that even today remain unsurpassed!
Holding the reigns of horses on one hand and heeding the fighter’s submission on the other, Krishna smiles. When a devotees faces an acute distress or discomfiture making him feel almost lost, then indeed the Creator smiles! It is on such rare occasions that man’s haughtiness crumbles and a deep sense of supreme divinity dawns; his ignorance gives way to knowledge and illumination. For the mind’s narrowness to dissolve and the sublime expanse to take over, such trials and circumstantial crisis seem inevitable.
Was not the same Krishna moving with Arjuna for decades? Did he not help the Pandavas wherever he sought help? An ardent friend, a timely guide, a powerful inspirer, and an esteemed reliever, what is the fitting role that Krishna did not play to please and fortify the wielder of Gandhiva! But, did at any time in the long years that passed, Arjuna ever enquire from him what he does now suddenly in Kurukshetra? Krishna obviously felt greatly happy that now at least the opportunity had come to reinforce the fighter with what his personality deeply lacked to deserve the fulfillment of human life, not alone that of a war field hero!
Far from the victory of war or the thrills of royal pomp, reigns the supreme spiritual treasure, which when won, will alone crown the human life eternally, a truth the foremost of Pandu’s sons had pitiably ignored all along. The gap had to be somehow filled. In the smile of Krishna sparkles a sure promise and reminder to the entire devotional world.
Arjuna’s quest was unique and sudden. Hence Krishna’s instructions too had to be precise and powerful. Though Arjuna submitted himself as a full seeker of Sreyas (supreme good) the manner in which he did so and the situation which led to the episode were strikingly novel. Krishna had naturally to take a note of the difference and deliver the instruction in an equally special and befitting way. This accounts for the distinction of Bhagavad Gita in the hierarchy of spiritual texts and dialogues.
The second chapter of Gita is named ‘Sankhya Yoga’. Sankhya denotes the Paramatma-vidya. The Upanishads exclusively expose the singular and supreme Self, Paramatma, the only subject to be known religiously, spiritually and philosophically. This Self, by the very nature of it, is something to be repeatedly explained by a well-versed competent Knower, listened to by the keen seeker and contemplated upon by him fervently. It is the most abstruse subject and hence the need for repeated study.
Vedas initially point a number of gods, heaven, hell and other worlds. But when they come to the Upanishads, the whole variety and divergence gets fully suspended and the entire stress goes to the singular Self, the Paramatma. Sankhya denotes this Paramatma-vidya of the Upanishads.
A question arises: Is it necessary that the pursuit of Self-knowledge has to follow a religious or pious life of rituals and ceremonies? Cannot Self-instruction become relevant in other contexts as well, as we find here in Kurukshetra where the actual war is just to begin? But the fervent enquiry of the heart has to occasion the instruction. The quest may emerge from any background, but finally it will lead to spiritual wisdom. Krishna’s instruction clearly illustrates this point.
Arjuna’a confession was that he was completely overpowered by grief and until this is redressed, he would not be able to get up, not to think of battling. What remedy does Krishna have in such a distress, he wonders!
Krishna is the least surprised. He begins his answer in a style and tone that make the gospel matchless and supreme. To the several questions placed before him, underscoring the intense grief of Arjuna, Krishna has only one point to emphasize, making the whole dialogue arrestingly spiritual and philosophical:
अशोच्यानन्वशोचस्त्वं प्रज्ञावादांश्च भाषसे ।
गतासूनगतासूंश्च नानुशोचन्ति पण्डिताः ।।
Arjuna is grieving over those who should not be grieved over at all, says Krishna. At the same time, Arjuna is not ashamed of speaking words of wisdom! To profess wisdom and at the same time to act so deludedly, is unbecoming of any intelligent human, points out Krishna. The pointer makes it impossible for Arjuna to escape from rethinking about his stand.
Arjuna’s grief was how he could envisage aiming arrows at Bhishma and Drona, whom he regarded as greatly adorable (Mahanubhava). Would the adorable Bhishma and Drona have rushed thoughtlessly to the battlefield to fight against their own disciples and grandsons, if such a step was wrong or would cause harm or incur sin to either side? Thus in Arjuna’s thoughts alone, lurked a deep conflict, a total bankruptcy!
Even if the impropriety of the war and the disastrous consequences it would lead to, as Arjuna claimed, were for a moment true, should it not have been sensed first by the great Bhishma and Drona themselves? Can Mahanubhavas (magnificent souls) be so much wrong or short sighted, and their disciple alone all right?
To profess panditya (knowledge) is verily to reflect and radiate it in thoughts and behaviour obvious to others around. A wise man must also display wise behaviour. The claim Arjuna makes by his logic and assertions is, alas, totally disproved by such deluded, disharmonious behaviour. The import and implication of Krishna’s initial words thus go very deep. They expose the hollowness of Arjuna’s inner personality and equally point to similar plights in the readers and thinkers too!
This is the excellent way the Sankhya reflection proceeds in any matter of enquiry. The Sankhya thinker does not accept whatever is seen in his front. He insists on knowing how what he sees derives its right to be so. To exist is, for him, to do so authentically, undeniably. To merely appear to exist, however well it may be, is far different from ‘being in truth’. The distinction between the two- appearance and existence- is not something silly to be overlooked or forgotten. In the thin distinction between the two lies the entire essence of truthful perception.
The power of our senses is limited. The senses can only perceive what is readily present before them. In determining whether what shines is only a mere appearance or not, they remain powerless. To judge the reality of the perceptibles, a distinct probe ‘beyond the senses’ has to follow. Sankhya excels in such a sharp, subtle dedicated search. Sankhya bases its search on the sensitive intelligence and its mastery to delve into perceptions and unearth their substratum, however elusive this be. Krishna initiates Arjuna into such a probe beyond the senses. Arjuna’s grief and disharmonious behaviour are made the immediate ground for the purpose. Herein lies Krishna’s distinction as well as that of Kurukshetra gospel.
Grief is an oft-occurring experience in everyone’s life. To Arjuna also it must have been so. Nonetheless, the affliction he encountered in Kurukshetra subdued him beyond measure. And he sought a full and immediate solution to it. Can affliction, vishada, be a triggering factor for the deep Sankhya pursuit?
Not alone affliction, but anything one perceives outside or experiences within can become a fillip to take up the Sankhya search, as Gita itself would show later.
In fact, the Upanishads present Sankhya-vidya in the setting of a hermitage in the forest, where a seeker from the rural habitat goes with the unfulfilled quest of his heart to stand before the hermit in full humility and fervour. His quest may relate to the rituals and their promised ends. Or it may as well bear upon the dissatisfied intelligence, which yearns to know whether there is any abiding truth behind the evanescent scenes around.
Though Arjuna’s ground is entirely different, Krishna does not discredit or disallow its place. He deftly relates the Sankhya probe to Arjuna’s crisis. This clearly underscores that spiritual philosophy should commence more from the actual compulsions of the mind than from any deep queries of the intelligence.
The sight of Bheeshma and Drona proved greatly unnerving to Arjuna. But to the Instructor Krishna, it called for and facilitated the most sublime Sankhya enquiry. Gita thus excels in making any situation, especially the aggressive or agitating events, a timely trigger to inaugurate true spiritual enquiry. Not alone with Arjuna and the Kurukshetra war, but with every other world situation as well, grief when enquired into properly, will surely take the mind to Sreyas and spiritual wisdom.
“Asocyan anvasocah” is, in fact, a universal dictum Krishna pronounces for the entire mankind. Usual grief or affliction is not called for at all in any situation. The world has been there for an infinitely long period. Human generations have also been there. Every generation has lived in the world for its duration and left. There will not be anything basically new for any one to find in the world at any time, which his predecessors had not encountered. What is there so much to grieve for or be despondent about? It is always one’s own mind and vision that need to be widened and deepened, complemented and elevated. In place of striving for the timely personal inward expansion, it is a sheer delusion to lament, thinking that the external event or situation is wrong or disharmonious.
Krishna develops the Sankhya thought further in a very striking manner and raises the mind from the superficial ideas about death and dejection to lodge it in the higher pedestal of immortality and supreme enlightenment.
“ The wise, the enlightened, will not grieve over either the dead or the living, Krishna points out. To claim Panditya, wisdom, is to be equal towards both death and life. Krishna’s view takes one to the real depths of human mind and shows how it shines as immortal, despite all the seeming contradictions it displays and passes through every day.
The dead are those from whose bodies life forces have departed. And the living are they in whose bodies life forces are still present. To the Wise, Krishna says, both facts are alike, in truth. In one, the life forces have left the body. In the other, they are to leave or in the process of leaving! At first hearing, the view may look ridiculous or intriguing. But on reflection in depth, the vision is bound to change. The grieving mind will be forced to check itself, giving way to the rational intelligence to introspect deeply and understand the intricacy. When the intelligence begins to work deeply, the mind naturally will have to recede. Emotional outburst has to subside when the vigour of the searching mission of intelligence becomes pronounced.
Spiritual wisdom is quite distinct in that it instills and compels a vision that fully transcends what people are conventionally given to. Pandita means the enlightened. Here, in this context, it denotes the Self-realized Knower. For the Knower, if the event of death calls for grief, then the instance of life also will call for the same grief. Every living body is each moment approaching its death. In fact, every day, after the birth of any one, is a ceaseless march towards death. Everyone becomes closer and nearer his death with everyday passing. The dead leading to grief, the living must also lead to the same grief.
The Sankhya vichara or introspection irresistibly takes us to such a subtle level of perception. The phenomena become a constant cause to take us to the sphere of the noumenon.
(From the series Essential-Concepts-In-Bhagavad-Gita)