The opening verse of Bhagavad Gita compels any one to go more deeply into its relevance and import. The entire Gita gospel is in the form of a dialogue with several questions and answers. In the whole text the first verse presents the only question which the blind King Dhritarashtra raised with a special concern and curiosity. The succeeding 699 verses come as Sanjay’s narration in reply to the King’s enquiry.
Why did Dhritarashtra intercept so abruptly Sanjaya’s mood and words, seeking to know what exactly his sons and Pandavas did first in the battlefield ? A warfield will, right from the start, normally witness only fierce and relentless fighting between the warring armies. Could Kurukshetra be any exception to this ? What was then the prompting of the blind King to make such an enquiry, especially after listening already to the unnerving event of the 10tth day ?
Obviously Dhritarashtra finds it difficult to listen to and accept what Sanjaya reports, and he wants to know whether something special took place in the battlefield before such an unassimilable event could come to pass.
The descriptions we have before us are what Sage Vyasa inscribed. By providing such a paradoxical beginning to Bhagavad Gita, doest the author instill his own ascetic abstruse notes also, to make the gospel more profound ,purposeful and everlasting ? By this, however, Bhagavad Gita assumes a far greater depth and relevance, which makes it encompass all situations, challenges and stages of human life in the world.
Scriptural tenets are stern in laying down that for any Sastra to be unique and worthy, it must have its brilliance notes of distinction (apoorvata). Bhagavad Gita is no doubt a greatly distinguished treatise. Its primary distinction lies in the setting in which it transpired and the great purpose it accomplished forthwith.
Spiritual wisdom and pursuit are considered mostly relevant to the solitary life of ascetics. It is also regarded as a faithfully indulgence of old age and retired life. The young and energetic often feel persuaded to shun its benefits scrupulously. It is a strong belief that spiritual pursuit, when taken up earnestly, will inevitably induce a deep note of withdrawal from the active life of involvement and achievement. For those who take up creative activity of the world aimed at visible external gains and glory, spiritual wisdom is held by many as utterly disharmonious and even disastrous.
It is not an uncommon fear that spiritual enlightenment dampens the enthusiasm and commitment for worldly pursuits. How can, it is argued, internal enlightenment and external involvement, which are opposed to each other, go together at all ? The mental and moral excellence which spirituality is deemed to bestow is, at any rate, characterized by a note of still ness and inaction, called naishkarmya by spiritual exponents. Should not then the urge to remain engrossed in action and achieve its benefits and joy necessarily come from an altogether different sense of value and usefulness about the world of matter ? Votaries of active worldly life have thus generally stood by a strong aversion to spiritual pursuit.
But a proper study of Bhagavad Gita will amply show how unfounded such a belief is. It is a product of sheet ignorance and lack of rational thinking. The first verse itself provides a context and connotations which are very profound. That Dhritarashtra felt like intercepting Sanjaya to hear a spirituo-philosophical discussion to comfort and strengthen his own mind before he could listen to the subsequent war narration with composure, speaks volumes to correct the error and dismiss the myth which clouds the minds of even the educated lot.
Sanjaya had, at Vyasadeva’s own bidding, begun his masterly narration. His graphic descriptions had alighted on the great mountains and rivers which make Bharat holy and her people exceedingly pious. The trend of narration was abruptly intercepted when the war broke and Sanjaya had to rush to Kurukshetra to witness in close proximity the entire course of events. The intensity and fervour of the battle and the colossal slaughter that followed day after day kept the narrator on his toes. Involved in observing first hand the visible scenes in front as well as the invisible whispers in the camps, he could not find the least respite to go back to the King and continue the narration from where he left.
Nine days passed, and then dawned the most eventful tenth day posing the worst mental and moral crisis. Sanbjaya, bewildered by what he saw, could not resist his urge to run to the blind King and apprise him of the events along with their treacherous implications. Announcing his identity to the King, Sanjaya blurt forth : “The peerless and invincible son of Santanu, hit by Arjuna’s arrows, has, alas, fallen from the chariot ! The great grandfather is lying flat on the bed of arrow in the battlefield.”
“Or was this, “ he wondered, “the lofty compulsion of any thoughtful Kshatriya poised to fight for a righteous end ? n Would not the Pandavas have been confronted by their own noble sense and ideals before the war began ? How was the dilemma resolved, and by whom ? The unfailing holiness of Kurukshetra would not permit an ignoble, disharmonious act to transpire there. Discordance is unknown to the inexorable laws of Dharma !
“Behind the unbearable heinous act of the Pandavas, therefore, there must have been some superb note of higher insight and sanction. And that alone would have provided them the much needed depth and strength to plunge into the unthinkable encounter. When Krishna announced his decision not to wield any weapon, and yet drove Arjuna’s chariot, was he not preparing deliberately for a greater crucial mission in the war ? To console, strengthen and inspire the Rathi ( the master of the chariot) is the indispensable duty of the true Sarathi (charioteer), especially in crucial moments of war !
My mind is immensely tormented, O Sanjaya. I have no strength to hear or bear any further portrayal of war events unless my agitated mind is appeased first and adequate inner strength bestowed to my heart. My plight must be akin to that of the Pandavas before the battle began. If merely on hearing the treachery that you report I have lost my inward balance, then what should have been the plight of Pandavas in having to resort to such a heartless assault on their beloved grandfather ? And, if they could find their clarity and redress, as obviously they did, then that relief must equally be helpful to me also, in this moment of extreme affliction !
“So Sanjaya, tell me first what exactly happened in Kurukshetra, before the actual battle began. If any spiritual or moral consideration and exchange did take place, narrate that episode in full to me, so that my heart too will be appeased and I will gain composure to hear your further narrations on war.”
Dhritarashtra’s interrogation thus leads us to a great deal of imagination, whereby the place and purpose of the spiritual gospel become clearer and more broad-based.
Of the 18th chapters of Gita, the first is given the significant title of Vishadayoga. This is so because vishada or grief is the major content and message of the chapter. Sanjaya first describes, as the King himself specifically wished, how his own son Duryodhana, on seeing the armies ready for the battle, went to Drona, the Teacher, but spoke in an offensive, painful and humiliating manner. The tone of advice underscored by indecency and arrogance conveyed in every word he uttered was so disheartening that Bheeshma, the grandfather, standing close by ( as the Commander in Chief), felt compelled to blow his conch, thereby bringing Duryodhana’s words to a stop. Instantly were let loose, in full indiscipline and disarray, war cries from all quarters of their army. Duryodhana, Sanjaya says, had thus to abruptly stop his verbal insult to his Teacher.
His own army outnumbering Pandavas’ in abundant measure, why did Duryodhana’s mind yet get swayed by fear, doubt and grief, when he looked at the opponents ? The power of Dharma, to which the whole creation, mobile and immobile, is ultimately subject, has always its inscrutable notes. Its course is sometimes known to abet the wicked to gain swift growth and by that process instrument their large scale downfall, so that the earth and the society can be widely swept clean.
Finding that eleven akshauhineees of Duryodhana’s army arrayed against the seven akshauhineees of Pandavas’, the characteristic doubt ‘and surprise likely to be evoked in the thinker, have to give place to the deeper understanding that Nature has inscrutable ways of preserving Her own welfare and solidarity. Sanjaya’s narration, though brief at this stage, still abounds in moral and ethical lessons which are sure to widen the horizon of the seeker’s knowledge and strengthen his inner dimensions.
If even in Dwapara Yuga, which ended over 5000 years ago, such a large majority of army and people of this land did align with Duryodhana’s greed and wickedness, is it prudent to be unduly disturbed by similar developments confronting us today in many fronts ? Mankind is always assorted. Nature has provided freedom and scope for the individual and his allies to trek the path they choose or relish. But such options, though innate, will surely meet their definite consequences in the hands of other individuals with differing choice and inclination.
Have the skies, which lost the numerous bodies within their fold unleashing their own forces of gravity, ever failed to preserve each of them in ceaseless balance and harmony with the rest? Will not our firmaments then be sensitive enough to hold the citizens of the earth in proper behavioural rhythm? Thus the assorted options of mankind, be they of an individual here, a group there or a nation elsewhere, are bound to bring their own halt or correction at the crucial junction. Blinding greed, intolerance and delusion are always sure to dig their own grave in the hands of inexorable mental and moral laws, which are far subtler than the gross laws of gravity on motion operating on our bodies and visible planes alone.
Vyasadeva through his matchless epic skill, provides ample clues and events to throw light on the intricacies of human mind and the fates they are sure to fetch, so that every one can build in himself timely confidence and correction wherever necessary. It is significant that Kurukshetra drives Duryodhana’s unruly behaviour to its climax at a time when it should have been rightly checked and mended. After seeing the army in front, Duryodhana approaches his Teacher displaying arrogance and conceit but only to conceal his own persistent fear and grief. Dhritarashtra’s son began to taunt Drona by his words of undue caution and command and dishearten Bheeshma by such misbehaviour. Was it not in these venerable elders that he found his invincible source of strength and succour? In place of seeking timely advice, the thought of inflicting criticism and humiliation to the great leaders of his army was no other than pitiable perversion. And this, in the process, only weakened his own cause and strengthened that of the opponents.
Sanjay’s words in the first chapter of Gita were a sudden sequel to the flood of sorrow that overtook him, which made him rush to the palace to steep the King also in untold grief. As the first day of the Kurukshetra battle advances, it brings uncontrollable grief to the heroic Arjuna. Sanjaya describes Arjuna’s predicament vividly, thereby setting the unique prelude leading to the Charioteer Krishna standing as a Greater Teacher and Yoga Emperor. The timeliness of Krishna’s instructions and the drastic transforming effect they had on Arjuna made the message a distinct, delightful and immortal gospel. Like an alluring song to the crying child, it became the lasting Song of the Soul to the entire tormented mankind.
Vishada, sorrow, is, however, the setting and compulsion which first led Arjuna to his pressing search, prompted equally Sanjaya to run and report the instance specially to Dhritarashtra, and equally impelled the blind King to come up with his special enquiry, as we find in the opening verse of the text.
The enquiry posed in the opening verse and the trend of Sanjaya’s answer following it clearly tell us that Bhagavad Gita is far from any spiritual gospel exclusively linked with religious life or the concerns of an ascetic seeker. It comes as an important corollary of political and administrative life of mankind, when the irksome task of administrative life of mankind, when the irksome task of administration stands stifled by mind’s constrictions, torment and reluctance, which prevent the task from being taken forward with resolve. It is equally a full message of clarity and vision to the intelligence of man, which gets assailed by the abstruse questions of propriety and ideals about what is to be done and what consequences will such action evoke .
In other words, the subject of Gita is the crisis of the active human in the midst of worldly responsibilities. The analysis it makes the insight it provides are true for all times to come, because of the changeless character of human mind and its interactions with the world.
While the Upanishads can be claimed to crown the long and arduous religious quests for Truth and the final investigations of Vedic thinkers, Gita comes as an extremely sudden demand as well as fulfillment of a faithful royal and administrative life. In fact, most of our spiritual philosophical treatises focus on public administrative problems like mind’s weakness, intelligence’s delusion and the great discomfiture they face in the task of upholding righteousness.
To regard the Gita dialogue as purely religious and spiritual and link it with the life of ascetics and recluses alone, will thus be a great disgrace to the message and dishonor to the author. The sooner this error is set right, the better for mankind.
(Part of the Series Essential-Concepts-In-Bhagavad-Gita)